'Intergenerational parties' could boost elderly patients' health and wellbeing

06 December 2018

'Intergenerational parties' could boost elderly patients' health and wellbeing
Elderly patients spending long periods in hospital may be able to improve their health and wellbeing - simply by spending time with children.

That is the premise of a new charity-funded project at St Mary’s Hospital, which aims to show that older patients can benefit from mixing with children.

The 12-month project, which began in August this year, involves a series of ‘intergenerational parties’ where local primary school children visit elderly care wards to take part in hands-on activities.

Members of staff at St Mary’s hope to show that spending time with children helps older patients feel happier and less isolated during their time in hospital with an increased sense of wellbeing and purpose. It is possible that the visits could even reduce patients’ perception of pain and the length of their stay in hospital.

The project is being led by GP registrar Dr Charlotte Lance, who has taken a year out from her training to manage the project, and the dementia team at St Mary’s.

Imperial Health Charity has awarded a £60,000 grant to cover Dr Lance’s salary and the running costs of the project.

She said: “We currently have an ageing population, which is resulting in incredibly high demands on our health and social care systems. We believe that bringing generations together can help to alleviate some of this pressure.

“Intergenerational activities happen regularly in other countries and we are starting to do similar things here in the UK. However, to our knowledge, they are not yet being done in an acute hospital setting. This is a new and exciting project which hopefully will bring lots of benefits to all those involved.”

The first party was held in the Albert ward at St Mary’s in November, with pupils from Laurel Lane Primary School joining elderly patients to solve a series of puzzles and challenges.

The Wallace Collection, the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and other community organisations are also collaborating with the Trust to develop activities for the parties, with several more due to take place over the next year.

Dr Lance hopes the intergenerational events will have a lasting impact on elderly patients, particularly those with dementia, helping to reduce levels of distressed behaviour and the need for sedatives or anti-psychotic medication.

It is thought children will also benefit from the parties by developing their communication and teamwork skills, as well as learning about the hospital environment.

The project began in August and is due to be completed in July 2019. It is hoped the principles of intergenerational care can be embedded in the Trust’s hospitals in the long term.