Why intergenerational relationships play an important role in independent living

Intergeneration activities are really important in reducing isolation and supporting people living in independent living schemes to be physically and mentally active, says Francis Burrows, Director of Support and Service Development at Orbit.

“Historically the physical bonds of family dynamics were structured around generations either living in the same home or locality, with younger and older family members regularly sharing experiences that were mutually fulfilling.

“However social and economic changes have increased separation between the generations over the years – a separation that was felt particularly acutely in our independent living schemes during the COVID-19 pandemic when many of our usual social activities had to pause to safeguard the health of residents. Even outside of COVID times not all of our residents have regular contact with the younger generation with distance and work commitments often creating obstacles.

“To help address this many of our independent living schemes have formed excellent relationships with local schools who are as keen as we are to build intergenerational relationships within our communities.

“Even during lockdown, school children who might otherwise have been visiting schemes to spend time with our residents stayed in contact via Zoom to read stories or share what they were learning at school. Others drew ‘virtual hugs’ that were delivered to the doors of residents.

“It’s only in recent months that we’ve started to invite schools back into our schemes, but the benefits have been clear to see. At one scheme for example, local school children returned for the first time since lockdown to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee with our residents. The children were fascinated by the photographs and memories that many of our residents conveyed of previous jubilee celebrations, and everyone thoroughly enjoyed bonding over craft activities and sharing cakes.

“Activities like these are mentally and physically stimulating for both parties – developing communication and social skills, encouraging empathy, combatting loneliness to name just a few of the benefits.

“There are studies that demonstrate intergeneration activities and wellbeing services have demonstrable, measurable benefits to wellbeing, reduce isolation and can help improve a range of conditions. We use a clinically validated tool – the Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale – as a part of our work to show the improvements to people as well as the more general feedback. The core element for me is about reducing isolation, mental stimulation and supporting people to be physically and mentally active, which helps to maintain and improve wellbeing

“We’ve recently launched a new Health and Wellbeing strategy for all independent living schemes across Orbit to ensure that we’re supporting residents to lead healthy, happy and independent lives. Ensuring residents stay socially connected, involved in the wider community and have the opportunity to build these meaningful relationships with the younger generation will be an important part of supporting them to lead fulfilling lives.”