Experts at the University of Stirling are planning a major intergenerational study into the benefits of bringing together nursery-aged children and adults living with dementia.
It follows the success of a pilot study conducted by the University’s Psychology Division, which operates the UK’s only fully integrated research kindergarten. The six-week pilot involved children from the kindergarten enjoying art, gardening and music sessions alongside adults living with dementia.
Researchers found that the project brought benefits to both groups – and are now seeking to launch a full-scale study to understand how the innovative approach can help tackle loneliness, isolation and injury prevention in adults living with dementia.
Dr Line Caes, Lecturer in Psychology, Faculty of Natural Sciences, led the pilot study in collaboration with colleagues at the University’s world-renowned Dementia Services Development Centre and Town Break Stirling, which offers dementia support services across the region.
Dr Caes said: “Our pilot demonstrated that it is possible to bring together these two vulnerable populations. While previous studies have brought together young children and older people, this is the first to assess the impact of nursery-aged children and adults living with dementia meeting in a new environment for both groups.
“We found the sessions were enjoyable to both the adults living with dementia and the young children – with the gardening session proving the most popular. The adults told us how the interaction brought back fond memories of their own children, grandchildren, and even children that they used to teach; others said it made them feel as if they were contributing to society again.”
Intergenerational research provides opportunities for different generations to come together to share experiences, knowledge and skills that are mutually beneficial and foster positive long-term relationships. The researchers found that it took around four to five weeks for “spontaneous interactions” – such as greeting each other and passing pleasantries unprompted – between the children and adults to emerge.
Preliminary results suggested that the mood and wellbeing of the adults and the children improved after the intergenerational sessions. In addition, five out of six children showed increased positive attitudes towards older adults after the six sessions.
Dr Caes added: “This pilot study proved the feasibility of bringing together these two groups – and indicated that there may be important benefits to both. We are now looking at launching a full-scale project to understand how intergenerational interaction, such as this, could help to prevent loneliness and isolation, and promote injury prevention, in adults living with dementia."
Federica Caruso, Kindergarten Manager, added: "At the same time, we believe that the children also benefit from the multi-sensory stimulation, learning new skills from the adult participants and improving or changing their knowledge, perception and attitudes on ageing.”
The University’s Psychology Kindergarten cares for about 30 children – aged between two years nine months and five years – and provides staff and students with the opportunity to study the daily experiences of the children. The kindergarten is not a clinical psychology facility and the research is typically observational in nature – parents have to opt their children in for each research activity. Examples of recent projects include studies considering imitation; willingness to cooperate; toy preferences; and the recollection of events.
The pilot study – funded by Stirling’s Faculty of Natural Sciences and the Faculty of Social Sciences – was led by Dr Caes, with the support of students Samantha Hare and Jessica Barrass-Sykes, Federica Caruso (Kindergarten Manager) Dr Rachel Crockett (Lecturer in Health Psychology), Dr Sian Lucas (Lecturer in Social work) and Gisele Hall (Befriender Co-ordinator at Town Break Stirling).
Town Break Stirling aims to increase health, wellbeing and quality of life for people living with dementia; reduce social isolation and loneliness; and enable individuals to live at home for as long as possible. It also provides assistance and support to carers.