Seniors housing complexes across Australia are increasingly incorporating children’s centres and activities, as ground-breaking new research shows clear benefits from bringing younger and older generations together.

During 2019, Australia was captivated by the heart-warming television documentary Old People’s Home for Four-Year-Olds, in which young children were regularly brought into an aged care facility at Sydney’s Northern Beaches.

The early promise shown by the documentary experiment has now been reinforced by new, yet-to-be-published Australian Government-funded research.

The research, which is expected to be published in early 2020, shows that inter-generational activity helps maintain the quality of life of older Australians who require aged care support. The research recommends that the best results can be obtained when child care and aged care facilities are co-located.

Dr Xanthe Golenko worked as a project manager at Queensland’s Griffith University on the  research, before moving to the research institute run by retirement living, aged care and home support provider Bolton Clarke.

Dr Golenko said while programs integrating children and older people had been in place for some time in the United States and Europe, the idea was relatively new in Australia.

“I think this is a big upcoming trend, something I would like to see more broadly rolled out across Australia. It makes sense socially and economically,” Dr Golenko said.

Screen shot from ABC's Old People's Home for Four-Year-Olds

The research took place at one residential aged care facility and three facilities providing respite aged care across NSW and Queensland. 

For the research, children aged three to five took part in an hour’s worth of activities with the older residents, once a week, between June and December 2018. A total of 40 older people and 40 children took part.

The research compared the experience of the 40 older people who took part in the research, and a separate ‘control’ group who did not. 

The research found that those who interacted with children felt they maintained their quality of life - including through having an improved mood, energy levels and sense of purpose - while the group which had no organised contact with children perceived their quality of life had declined. 

The research found the outcomes were best when children’s and aged care facilities were co-located. This is because the facilities could share staff and administration costs and also share similar organisational values.

Big shift towards integrating generations

The shift towards inter-generational living and activities is one of the ‘mega trends’ currently underway in over 50s housing.

Bolton Clarke has an intergenerational playgroup that meets weekly at Fairview, Pinjarra Hills complex, which is currently part of Playgroups Queensland research into the benefits of intergenerational play.

“We also have playgroups that meet regularly (intervals vary from weekly to monthly) at a number of our other communities,” a Bolton Clarke spokeswoman said.

“Some also have relationships with schools – for example our Fernhill residential aged care community at Caboolture has a relationship with Caboolture Montessori school.

“For the past five years, senior students at the school have visited Fernhill weekly and worked with residents on activities ranging from gardening to arts and crafts and conversation.”

In addition, Bolton Clarke is proposing to include a child care centre at its major new twin tower retirement living project on the former Gold Coast hospital site.

Meanwhile, a pre-school for 56 children is located in the grounds of RSL Lifecare’s ANZAC Village at Narrabeen, which was the home of Old People’s Home for Four-Year-Olds. The pre-school kids undertake regular trips around the 40 hectare village, including meeting and interacting with village residents.

In Sydney, Uniting is proposing to build an early learning centre, with places for 75 children, as part of its Westmead project, which it says will “add a further dimension of intergenerational activity to the community.”

South of Sydney, an 80-place child care centre will form part of Lendlease’s showcase $500 million Health and Wellbeing precinct at the University of Wollongong. This precinct will also include a 126-bed residential aged care facility and 199 independent retirement living units across a 75 hectare site.