By Neil Gandecha, Estate Manager at Foxholes Care Home (www.foxholescarehome.com)
It’s no secret that the health and social care sector has been disrupted immeasurably through- out an unprecedented 18 months. Such a testing and unparalleled period has certainly heightened our sense of grief and, at times, seen us lose touch with reality. From this, we have learnt just how important it is that we remain connected with society as humanly as possible.
Age segregation has gradually become the norm in the UK today. Our communities and activities have become divided by age. Young people are in schools and older people typically reside in care homes, whilst young and middle-aged adults tend to cluster at offices and work sites. As a result, there is little interaction between generations.
According to Erik Erikson, one of the first psychologists to describe social development across a lifetime, connections between youth and the elderly can give a gargantuan sense of fulfilment. Intergenerational relationships, therefore, have the power to invigorate and energise the older generation, and help reduce the risk of depression and loneliness.
Indeed, the events of the past year-and-a-half have prohibited families to be near their loved ones. Still, it’s essential for seniors to connect with the younger generation. At Foxholes Care Home, many residents were recently presented with the opportunity to experience the power of intergenerational relationships with a selection of students from Hitchin Girls’ School. In a bid to strengthen community connection and form long-lasting intergenerational friendships, we recently relaunched our pen pal project.
After the scheme, which initially launched in February last year, had to be paused due to the coronavirus pandemic, we’re finally in a position to resume our mission in helping foster friendships the old-fashioned way by sharing letters between residents and students.
The project will enable 22 residents and students to pair up and exchange handwritten letters seasonally throughout the year. The recent batch of letters contained information documenting key elements of their lives such as name, age, and family information (marital status, no. of children/ grandchildren), which served as a mini-bio to aid the introductory process.
Care home residents who experience close intergenerational interaction tend to be happier with their present life and more hopeful for the future, reducing feelings of sadness and increasing their self-worth and self-esteem.
If these connections are so profoundly important for all involved, why aren’t there more programmes seeking to actively engage the elderly with younger people?
Indeed, we need to be creative with our approach to maintain the art and heart of conversation. Sharing the events of lived experience with the loved ones we live with and those who matter to us, as well as being able to create new meaningful memories, should be facilitated and encouraged. Change can bring innovation and widely accessible tech- nology can be seamlessly integrated into care environments nowadays.
Video conference applications such as WhatsApp, Zoom and Skype can be very helpful in facilitating intergenerational relationships. Particularly for those people living with dementia, the use of modern technology can bring a sense of familiarity, recognition, and calmness.
With that said, the positive impact of intergenerational relationships was something we were desperate to implement and utilise to our advantage at Foxholes. The pen pal scheme is an outstanding initiative and enables two different generations to connect, share and enjoy each other’s stories. Following 18 months of social distancing and isolating, it was touching to re-ignite that pre-existing bond.
Theresa Lowe, a teacher at Hitchin Girls’ School, also hailed the pen pal project as a success, saying: “It has been a pleasure to be involved with Foxholes’ pen pal scheme. Students across all age groups have really enjoyed reading the letters from residents and writing back. We look forward to continuing the project in the future.”
It becomes clear, then, that if we, as a sector, are serious about improving the lives and overall wellbeing of our residents, then we must rewrite the narrative and continue to utilise the power of intergenerational relationships in care facilities across the country. If we start by acknowledging the simplest of meaningful connections, then it can make a tremendous difference to someone’s daily experiences.
Neil Gandecha is the Estate Manager at Foxholes Care Home, a residential care home set in 18 acres of serene and peaceful Hertfordshire countryside, surrounded by grazing horses and an abundance of wildlife. Purpose built near the market town of Hitchin in 2012, Foxholes provides a luxurious standard of accommodation and facilities.