The joys of granny daycare – regular time together has benefits for the old and young

Like Doria Ragland, who cancelled the yoga classes she teaches in LA and hired a dog-sitter to travel to London last month, mothers will travel as far as necessary to attend the birth of their grandchildren, and to spend time with them as they grow up.

Even so, modern scattered families mean that even with the best of effort, many young children now grow up without benefiting from time spent with older adults.

However, there’s a quiet but steadily growing movement that could change all this, as evidence mounts that regular time together has benefits for both the old and the young.

In 1976, Shamuda Masaharu decided to merge a nursery school in Tokyo with a nearby care home for the elderly while the nursery was renovated. This was purely a practical decision, but almost at once, staff in both establishments noted social and cognitive improvements in both old and young.

The older residents became more alert and interested in their surroundings, and talked and smiled more often. The children, too, seemed happier and more responsive to the extra care and attention they enjoyed. The two establishments never separated, and by 1998, there were 16 more intergenerational care facilities in the capital, with daily joint activities for the children and residents including exercising, reading, cooking and eating meals.

The idea soon spread across Europe, the US and Australia. The UK’s first intergenerational care facility opened in London in 2017 while certain Irish Montessories have less former link ins with nursing homes for ‘pensioner playdates’ .

Margret Skropeta at the University of Western Sydney studied the effects of situating pre-school playgroups in aged care settings.

Residents — including some diagnosed with dementia — said they felt more connected, more a part of society again. Furthermore, Maria Gualano at the University of Torino reviewed 27 studies of intergenerational care programmes. Benefits observed included increases in wellbeing, mood, and self-esteem among the elderly, a more positive perception of older people among the children, and a greater sense of wellbeing in staff.

Laura Carstensen at West Virginia University recruited older adults (average age 72) to help children, aged six to nine, improve their reading skills. The children’s attitude to older people became more positive, while the tutors felt happier and more part of their community.

Shared activities need not be restricted to school or nursery settings. Intergenerational orchestras, volunteer schemes and sport clubs are growing in popularity, with compelling results.

Researchers at the University of Leon asked undergraduates (mean age 19) studying sports and exercise to design a 50-minute session of games to encourage mildly depressed adults (average age 75). Participants’ mood and self-image improved significantly compared to participants taught by older professional trainers.

It’s high time to stop age segregation, and to encourage people of all ages, particularly the very young and very old, to spend productive time together.

Benefits are legion — older people report a reawakening of their sense of purpose, increased self-esteem and greater self-confidence, while the young gain social and linguistic skills and become more empathetic. When it comes to living together, like Doria Ragland and her new grandson, there are even practical benefits. Not only is everyone happier, the rent bill is reduced.

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