Older Australians and preschoolers will be working together for the Intergenerational Integration Initiative and will be undertaking a structured program of investigative, artistic and educational activities together.
Utilising the concept of the hit TV show run on the ABC in 2019, which is running for second season currently, researchers will be investigating whether intergenerational activities reduce frailty and improve mood and thinking skills in older adults; early research has suggested it does impact these areas positively.
Additionally, the trial will be looking for any improvements in empathy and language development, and whether there is a reduction in age stereotypes in the younger participants.
Associate Professor and Senior Research Scientist at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and Conjoint Associate Professor at UNSW, Ruth Peters, says the 10-week trial will be held during a school term at St Nics' Christian Preschool in Coogee, Sydney.
The intergenerational participants will be meeting once a week for three hours to undertake structured activities together.
"Early research indicates these programs could lead to better physical health and cognition among adults over the age of 65, and better interpersonal skills among children under the age of 5," explains Associate Professor Peters.
"Children and older adults can be the perfect companions and build lovely partnerships where they both really care for each other."
Before the start of the initiative, Associate Professor Peters and her research team surveyed 258 parents, teachers and older adults to see if they would support the program and had rather promising results from the survey.
Over 92 percent of respondents indicated that they believed the program had the potential to increase understanding and friendships across generations.
Survey participants also indicated that the program would provide new learning opportunities and improve communication skills for the children while also reducing the likelihood of loneliness and isolation in older adults.
Depending on the success of the trial, there will be a larger follow on trial testing whether the Intergenerational Integration Initiative could be rolled out to the wider community and throughout New South Wales, and then around the country.
"Bringing together older and younger Australians in a day-to-day setting could be a major benefit across Australia, particularly with almost half of those aged 75-84 living alone with likely exacerbated levels of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Associate Professor Peters.
Professor Kaarin Anstey, Director of the UNSW Ageing Futures Institute and Senior Principal Research Scientist at NeuRA, says that the Institute is excited to see the project develop further with such strong community support already being shown for the initiative.
After the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 caused massive problems for older Australians and their access to social and care structures, researchers believe the gains from this intergenerational initiative are really important following such a tough year.
The concept of intergenerational practice in Australia was initially floated in 2006 by the State and Territory Government-funded National Youth Affairs Research Scheme that was aimed at children aged 12-25 years.
The results from the pilot trial are expected to be available in July 2021. For more information about the study, visit the NeuRA website.