When you think about an aged care facility, the last thing you expect is the sounds of young children in playgrounds running around. But at Chaffey Aged Care in Merbein, Victoria, that’s exactly what you’ll get.
A brand new early learning centre has opened on the grounds of the care facility near Mildura in Victoria’s north-west, breathing new life and bringing a lot of fun to the facility.
“We opened on the fourth of January and I have watched care recipients walking around the aged care facility to the early learning center,” said Chaffey CEO, Darren Midgley.
“They’re gravitating to these children, they’re talking to the children through the fence. We’re starting to bring some care recipients into the early learning centre now.”
What started off as an intergenerational music programme, has developed into a full time early learning centre on site, bringing the generations together for activities and play.
“Chaffey aged care piloted the Music Together Generations program for about two years here. We saw first hand with that program being delivered in our facility, the benefits for bringing the generations together,” said Mr Midgley.
“That program brought toddlers and children from the community with their family into the aged care facility where they made music with our aged care recipients. What we saw were these connections being formed that really just blew us away.
“We saw aged care recipients who had profound dementia, who no longer had verbal skills, we’d see them singing the lyrics to the music as the program was rolling out. Or those who were bound in a chair, who no longer really moved, we’d see them tapping their fingers or tapping their foot to the beat of the music. The elation on their faces with the interaction with children who don’t see wheelchairs, they don’t see disability, they see beyond that and it was just so powerful.”
The Music Together Generations program quickly became so popular, residents were booking in back to back sessions, and the list of participants was far longer than the number of spaces on the programme.
So when the time came at a board meeting to discuss what the next move and opportunities for the facility, Mr Midgley proposed making the music programme a more permanent fixture within the community.
“I said to the board ‘I think we’ve invested enough into aged care for the time being, I think we need to look at something new. Let me tell you about what I’ve seen in our Music Generations program.’” said Mr Midgley.
“We’re in the care industry, we do that really really well, what can we do that’s complementary? Developing and creating an early learning centre with a focus on intergenerational care was just a really natural fit for us.”
Development began in February 2020, and was completed by November, always under the watchful eyes of residents, eager to meet their new friends. Speaking to HelloCare, Mr Midgley reflected on the residents pulling him aside daily to ask when the early learning centre would be open and the children arriving. “This was from the slab stage, so it has been just amazing,” he said.
“They’ve been watching with interest as each element of the project has unfolded, from preparing the foundations, pouring the slab, the frame going up. They’ve just watched with anticipation the whole way through.”
Since they opened the learning centre, already care recipients and children have been making connections and interacting in ways that have surprised and delighted team and family members. One particular connection has been between 92-year-old Fred, and his new little friend named Freddie. “They’ve made a beautiful little connection,” said Mr Midgley.
As more aged care recipients are brought into the learning centre to meet and interact with the children, staff members have been standing back and watching how the two generations are interacting, letting organic connections build and develop as they prepare to introduce structured sessions and activities.
“Today we were doing some artwork and we asked Fred if he’d like to draw, and he said ‘oh no I can’t draw I’ve got RSI, I haven’t drawn in years, I can’t draw’, and this little girl settled up next to him and gave him a pen and she started drawing, and watched as he picked up the pen and started drawing with her,” Mr Midgley told HelloCare.
“So he overcame his own limitations, his own perception of limitations, that she just drew out of him with this connection and away he went. He drew for half an hour with her. This little person challenged him, and he stepped outside of his comfort zone and away he went. He just had a beaming smile on his face all morning. This is an unplanned, raw, intergenerational benefit, it was just so beautiful to see.
“And to see the staff in the early learning centre commenting on it, tears rolling down their face to see these older aged care recipients engaging with these children, it’s just so beautiful to see.”
In the future, as the programme grows and develops, structured activities and interactions with the generations will increase. From walking, gardening in raised planter beds, to cooking, art, craft, stories and of course continuing with plenty of music and play.
“As we move forward it will be structured and there will be planned programming that will bring the generations together. We’ll be looking to measure the benefits, both to the aged care recipients, but also the children in terms of milestone achievement and developmental milestones,” said Mr Midgley.
“I think this program speaks for itself. The benefit is significant for aged care recipients, from the perspective of function, preventing functional decline, of strength and falls prevention, to addressing the significant issues we experience in our industry around social isolation and depression. This gives our aged care recipients something to look forward to, it reduces those barriers of social isolation.
“Connecting with children has been that shining light, it’s kept us all going.”
For more information, visit https://www.generationselc.com.au/