Carrington Aged Care - Award Winning Intergenerational Reminiscence Program
Carrington Aged Care is a not for profit charitable public benevolent organisation located in the historic town of Camden, South West of Sydney, NSW. Carrington have been providing care and services for over 125 years and provide a range of care options including Residential Aged Care, Home Care and Independent Living. Carrington Aged Care were recently honoured by the Australian Aged Care Quality Agency with a Better Practice Award for their “Through Our Eyes” Intergenerational Reminiscence Program. The program was established in 2011 and continues to be instrumental in promoting intergenerational reminiscence across Carrington Residential Aged Care Homes to this day. Julie Philpott, Pastoral Care Coordinator at Carrington Aged Care shares insights into their award-winning program.
Since 2011, our organisation has been engaged in an innovative partnership with Year 11 students from a local Catholic high school, where students are partnered with residents from our residential aged care facilities for a 3-month intergenerational reminiscence program. Each year, 2-3 students are matched with an older person whom they visit every week, with the intention of listening to the resident’s story, learning about the life of the resident and hearing the wisdom of the resident who is encouraged to look back on the things that they have learned throughout their lives.
The students, who are required to submit an application to be considered for the program, are coached in thinking through what questions they might be able to ask that will encourage the older person to share his/her story. They help the resident to remember and explore the significant events of their lives, as well as the small things that have brought meaning even to the mundane moments. This reminiscence might be achieved with the assistance of photographs of the residents’ lives, through listening to music together or through discussion about their families, work, joys, sorrows, etc.
Over the years, there has been a steady increase in the number of students applying to be part of the program. In the first year, eleven students were matched with five residents. In 2017, a total of 19 students have been matched with nine residents, providing even more opportunities for teenagers and older people to engage in this opportunity for intergenerational reminiscence.
“The Carrington Intergenerational Program was designed to bring together the younger and the older generations within our community in Camden, emphasising two-way communication of knowledge and life experiences between our older generation and younger students embarking on their own life journey,”
said Carrington’s Chief Executive Raad Richards.
“It is about breaking the barriers between generations, providing opportunities for students to develop their communication skills and confidence and establishing a lasting connection to their community”.
Why We Did It
Researchers such as Jeffrey Dean Webster and Mary E McCall (‘Reminiscence Functions Across Adulthood: A Replication and Extension’ in Journal of Adult Development vol.6, no.1, 1999) have found that interpersonal reminiscence leads to an increase in happiness and a decrease in feelings of bitterness. Other studies have indicated that reminiscence also provides an opportunity for older people to meet significant milestones, such as dealing with regret and reconciling their actual life with the dreams they may have had, as they approach the end of their lives.
In an industry that is focused on the latter years of a person’s life, when they are evaluating the life they have led, attempting to deal with the increasing number of losses that they have experienced throughout life, and when they are seeking to make peace with their own future death, this is a project that potentially leads to an increase in happiness and a decrease in bitterness, and ensures that their lives are given meaning, even the mundane parts.
One of the beautiful features of the Intergenerational Reminiscence Project is the memento that the residents are left with at the conclusion of the program. In a very tangible way, this ensures that something of the person’s story continues to be told after the project is finished and even after the resident’s death, both as the book and DVD are shared and as any impact the resident has had on the students continues throughout their lives.
As an organisation, we have seen the enormous value in having people of different generations interacting with one another. While engaging in activities together, stories are shared and bonds are formed; history is re-lived and a greater understanding of the present is developed.
Many cultures have long-recognised the value of story-telling, although it may be said that it is an art that is being lost in modern society. Stories that are shared from one generation to the next have the potential to ensure that a person’s life does not finish at their death and that their story is not lost to living memory. Story-telling also provides younger generations with an opportunity to learn from the experiences of previous generations.
What We Did
In 2011, a partnership was established between a local Catholic high school and our aged care facility. The aim was to develop the relationship between the students and the residents through the process of story-telling and reminiscence. Since 2011, Year 11 students from the school apply to be involved with the project, indicating why they wish to participate and what they hope to gain from it. To do so, they give up 3 months of sport or study time, to travel out to our residential care facilities and spend time with residents. As participation in the project takes them away from potential study time and adds to their workload, students are asked to demonstrate that they will be able to cope with the extra pressures. The students are selected for the project based on their willingness to be involved, their ability to cope with the extra workload that is created by their involvement and by what they hope to gain from their participation in the project.
Residents are nominated by staff in the residential care facilities for involvement in the project. The nominated residents are then visited by the Pastoral Care Coordinator to discuss the purpose and process of the project, as well as their willingness to participate. This gives the residents opportunity to ask questions or seek clarification about their role. It also means that the residents can make contact with family members before the project commences, especially if they would like photographs or other memorabilia to be brought in to assist with the project. Where necessary, staff at the residential care facility can liaise with family members in order to explain the project and gain their support.
Once the students and the residents have been selected, they are then matched – usually 2-3 students per resident – and weekly visits commence. By having multiple students matched with each residents, the students are able to work together during the conversations with their residents, as well as in the production of an audio-visual presentation about the stories that are shared throughout the project. It also means that visits can proceed should a student be unable to attend at any point during the project.
A support teacher travels with the students to our aged care facilities each week, enabling her to answer questions from the students and to help them consider ways of approaching any particular issues or stumbling blocks. The teacher visits each of the groups at least every second week as they interact with the residents, offering support and encouragement, as well as attempting to open up the conversation further.
At the conclusion of three months of weekly visits, we hold a presentation afternoon where each group of students present an audio-visual production of the stories that have been shared by the resident during their time together. The residents and their families are invited to attend the presentation afternoon, along with appropriate representatives from the school and aged care communities. The presentations are frequently quite an emotional event, especially for family members who have regularly commented that there are parts of the resident’s story that they have not previously heard. Each resident is given a copy of the audio-visual presentation DVD as well as a printed booklet as mementos of their involvement with the project and of their lives.
Following the conclusion of the project, contact is made with the students, residents and their relatives to gather feedback from their involvement. It has been a delight to learn that some students have chosen to change their planned career paths in order to incorporate involvement in the aged care sector. Others have returned to our organisation as staff members or volunteers. Without exception, every resident has consistently reported that they would encourage other residents to get involved with the project should the opportunity arise. We have also had family members report using the audio-visual presentation at the later funeral of the resident.
More importantly, the feedback that we receive from the students, residents and their relatives each year enables us to reflect on any improvements that we can make to the project as it continues from year to year.
Who Worked With Us
Local Catholic High School:
One of the most significant partnerships in this project has been formed with a local Catholic high school – at the executive level, with supporting teachers and the students who are involved. The school has chosen to allow Year 11 students 3 options during the time that is scheduled for school sport: playing sport, using the time for study, or participating in the intergenerational reminiscence project. Having a support teacher who travels with the students each week to our aged care facilities and is available to answer questions and encourage discussion between the students and residents, has been invaluable.
The residents in our aged care facilities are a vital part of this project each year. They willingly engage with young people whom they have never previously met and they share their lives with them. As stories are shared and memories are evoked, the residents sometimes become emotionally vulnerable with the students. And yet, without exception, every resident who has participated in the project has reported that they are pleased that they were involved and would recommend that other residents be involved should they get the opportunity.
In addition to the school and the residents, the families of the residents have worked with us in pulling together a successful project each year. Relatives have provided photos and other information that have assisted the students and provoked discussion with the residents. Family members are also invited to attend the presentation afternoon in order to be with residents when they first view the audio-visual presentation that the students have created about the stories that have been shared.
The staff in our residential care facilities have been played a significant role in pulling together this intergenerational reminiscence project each year. The staff initially nominate the residents for involvement, then support the residents through the 3-month project. They also offer support and encouragement to the students whilst they are on site visiting with the residents.
What We Learned
One of the most significant things we have learned is the importance of preparing all the participants well for the program. If the residents are well-prepared, they have an opportunity to consider in advance what parts of their lives they would like to share with the students, as well as to gather together important photographs or other memorabilia to share. Sometimes this will mean giving the residents an opportunity to speak with relatives who have some of these special items stored, so that they can arrange to have them brought in.
We have found that preparing the students themselves is critical in ensuring that they have considered how to guide their residents into sharing stories of their lives. Providing them with a list of possible conversation starters, and helping them to consider the realities of older age, is vital. The students are provided with training in how to respond to people with some memory loss and with grief issues that may arise as they recall difficult moments or important relationships. On a practical level, we have learned that having clear guidelines around how the students are to respond to a resident having a fall, for instance, is important in giving them confidence in dealing with different situations that might arise. Perhaps more importantly, having people that they can consult when they are confronted with difficulties has made this project successful. The students are introduced to key staff in the residential care facility, so they can speak to them about immediate problems. However, they also have regular ongoing support from the teacher who travels with them to our organisation each week, as well as from the Pastoral Care Coordinator who is their main contact in the aged care organisation.
Over the years, we have learned that having a teacher who is dedicated to seeing the project succeed has been a key factor in it flourishing. The teacher has been able to generate enthusiasm for the project amongst the school community, ensure that the communication channels are maintained well, offer support to the students at times when they are struggling, and inspire creativity amongst the students as they engage with the residents and create their presentations.
As we engage with the project each year, surveys are completed with the students and the residents both before and after their involvement in the project. Surveys are also sent to relatives who have attended the presentation afternoon at the completion of the project.
From last year’s project, participating residents all stated that they had enjoyed being part of the program and that they would recommend other residents being involved in the future. They indicated that they had more confidence about the future of our country because it is in good hands with young people such as those they had met. One resident mentioned that she had realised that today’s young people were really not that different to people of her own generation – they too were looking for freedom from the generation that had raised them. Apart from the benefit of gaining a memento of their lives, all of the residents indicated that they were impressed by the friendly, engaging nature of the students, as well as their genuine interest in the lives of the residents.
The presentation afternoon is usually a highly emotional occasion, especially for the relatives of the residents who have been involved with the project. Relatives have described the presentation as a glimpse into the life of their elderly family member and one has indicated that they learned things about their mother’s life that they had not previously known. All of the surveyed relatives have stated that they appreciated the DVD and booklet that the students produced and that they were keen to be able to share them with relatives who were unable to attend the presentation.
There have also been significant positive outcomes for the students who participate in the project. All of the students are left with an appreciation of the generations who have gone before them. We have had a student comment that the resident’s wisdom had been an important influence on her own moral compass and all walked away indicating that they had learned important life lessons. Some students who have previously participated in the project have returned to our aged care organisation either as volunteers or as new workers in the aged care sector, attributing these choices to their prior involvement in the project.
Development of Educational & Training Resources
Intergenerational Reminiscence Guide:
The “Through Our Eyes” program was the winner of the 2016 National Aged Care Quality Pastoral and Spiritual Care Practice Award, presented by Meaningful Ageing Australia. In conjunction with Meaningful Ageing Australia, Carrington has launched a new Intergenerational Reminiscence Guide aimed at assisting other aged care organisations and secondary schools in establishing similar programs. The handbook explains how to run a successful intergenerational reminiscence program in aged care and is based on the successful “Through our Eyes” program refined over the past seven years by Carrington with Magdalene Catholic High School in Camden, NSW.
“This Guide helps those who would like to start or improve a program on how to go about it,”
said Ilsa Hampton, Meaningful Ageing CEO.
“It provides details on how to establish partnerships with local schools; select and brief student participants and older people, monitoring the partnerships; recognise and celebrate the final product with all participants including families; and handle specific issues and challenges such as the death of an older person during the project”.
“It also provides useful resources for project participation, selections, interviews, and reviewing the program from the point of view of the older person, family and the student”.
“There is a lot of evidence that reminiscence is an important part of ageing. This program is particularly important in giving the older person a reason to tell their story; and to be celebrated by those around them.”
Annual ‘Through Our Eyes” Presentation - Tuesday 8th August 2017
Carrington held a celebration on Tuesday 8th August in recognition of the work done over the last 3 months by Year 11 students from Magdalene Catholic High School at Narellan, as part of the Through Our Eyes program. Since May, students have been meeting with residents from Carrington, encouraging the residents to share their stories and memories. The celebration was the culmination of three months of sharing conversation and memorabilia. At the celebration event, the students collated the information they had gathered from their conversations with residents and presented it back to the residents and their families and friends as a memento for them to keep.
Carrington resident, Maureen Green said, “I really appreciate the friendship that I now have with the girls from Magdalene.”
When asked what she has gained from the program, student Maddison Saysonavongpheth said, “I just feel blessed that I was able to experience little bits of life, that hopefully I’ll never have to experience myself, but Maureen’s been strong enough to live through.”
Greer Jones, Executive Manager Residential Care