Intergenerational contact key to providing enriching dementia care


Dr Jennie Ferrell is a Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology at the University of the West of England and works on a number of schemes in Bristol researching the motivations, impact and benefits provided by intergenerational care.

Over recent years my research has provided an insight into a number of projects centred around intergenerational projects, which have grown in popularity as a result of television programmes such as ‘Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’ and ‘The Toddlers Who Took on Dementia’.

Anyone who witnesses an older relative interacting with small children or grandchildren will testify to the rejuvenating ability this sort of
contact can have and the science is increasingly backing up the impact intergenerational contact can have on our older population, particularly in the care sector.

When working with people with dementia, the benefits could be even more pronounced. Many with the disease have a much stronger long-term memory and taking part in activities such as singing old songs and playing with toys with children can trigger memories from their own childhood or their experiences as parents.

Far from simply providing a feel-good marketing gimmick, these programmes will become much more important as our society’s age segregation becomes more ingrained. Families are increasingly disconnected now, with children getting less contact with their grandparents and older people in general.

These projects provide a great opportunity for children to develop social skills and vital characteristics such as empathy, which will be vital for the rest of their lives. For example, when interacting with an older person who is hard of hearing or has less clear speech, we see that children develop their communication skills and emotional intelligence.

It is not just young and old that can benefit from these experiences. As a wider society, we are grappling with mental health problems, loneliness, and feelings of isolation, with groups such as new mothers and students particularly prone to these issues as they experience life transitions.

These challenges will not be going away any time soon, so projects such as Teaching Forgotten Skills will not only be vital for the care sector to continue to provide enriching support for older residents, but for society to overcome the challenges of loneliness and isolation.

Dr Jennie Ferrell, Senior Lecturer in Developmental Psychology at the University of the West of England.

Jennie contributed her thoughts as part of The Access Group’s ‘Teaching Forgotten Skills’ campaign:


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