Members of the sandwich generation often find themselves stuck between the responsibilities of providing caregiving both to aging parents and little kids. Even as they feel lots of love for both of them, the caregiving can get exhausting and all too often it puts too much on the caregiver’s shoulders.
But what if putting those two groups together – the elderly and kids – could lessen some of the needs each group has? Kids can provide the vitality and social interaction aging seniors need, while seniors are able to provide the kind of love and care kids require.
A Novel Idea: Preschool and Nursing Home in One
When the caregiving gets to be too much for loved ones to handle on their own, seniors often move to assisted living facilities or nursing homes. When that happens, seniors spend most their days surrounded by other seniors. While there’s nothing bad about being around other seniors, losing regular access to people of other generations can leave seniors feeling isolated and cause them to miss out on some of the benefits that accompany being around younger people.
Recognizing the limitation this places on seniors in many nursing homes, there’s a small movement of nursing homes that have embraced the idea of combining senior care with childcare.
Starting in Japan in the 1970’s, the trend of putting a preschool in a nursing home has little by little spread to other places and there are now a number of facilities in the United States that use this tactic.
The Providence Mount St. Vincent senior living facility, regularly called “The Mount” has gained a lot of attention for employing this innovative model of care. Their Intergenerational Learning Center is both a selling point for residents and a value add for the parents that choose the facility as their preschool.
Five days a week, seniors get to spend time with kids who are full of life and vitality, which keeps them more active and gives them something to look forward to. And kids get to learn from a diverse group of seniors with loads of life experience amongst them.
It ends up being good for everyone.
5 Reasons Putting a Preschool in a Nursing Home Works
Putting a preschool in a nursing home addresses some specific needs that both seniors and kids have and thus provides a few meaningful benefits to everyone involved.
- The kids learn to be comfortable around people of other generations.
Kids that don’t spend much time with seniors face the risk of finding the elderly to be strange or intimidating. They’re less likely to be understanding of and sympathetic to the challenges that come with the disabilities many seniors grapple with and they’re more likely to generally avoid interaction with seniors.
The kids that spend part of their day with seniors from a young age develop a more open mind when it comes to how they regard the seniors they encounter and the challenges they face. It’s an important learning opportunity for them that can help them in becoming better people as they grow older.
- Spending time with kids helps seniors fight off loneliness.
Senior loneliness is a serious issue that can lead to a variety of health problems and increased rates of death. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities try to provide opportunities to help seniors make connections and maintain a social life, but for many seniors, fighting off loneliness in a senior care facility is a difficult battle.
Spending time with kids each day is a clear solution to that problem. A lot of seniors that might have a hard time connecting to other seniors will have no problem chatting with kids. The excitement, creativity, and interesting ideas kids bring to their time together give seniors an opportunity for fun, connection, and a good amount of laughter.
- Having kids around makes seniors more active.
Aging often brings general aches and pains, along with the possibility of disabilities that make it difficult to remain active. It’s easier to stick to one room than get out and be amongst other people. But seniors need to stay active; it’s one of the keys to living longer and enjoying the years they have left. Seniors need movement and social opportunities in their life.
Kids can help with that. They move and play and exude energy and can get seniors to join them. They get the seniors chatting, playing, and just generally enjoying themselves in a way that only kids can pull off.
- Kids don’t care about the signs of dementia.
No matter how much you love a senior with dementia, you get frustrated with them. The repeated questions. The mood swings. The work and energy involved in keeping them comfortable and safe.
Kids tend to have patience far beyond what most adults can manage. They don’t mind repeating themselves when someone asks the same question they just answered five minutes ago. They don’t notice the changes in behavior that can be so frustrating for adults. They take things as they come and don’t see anything strange about the person they’re talking to – they’re still learning what normal is and therefore a person with signs of Alzheimer’s is just another person to them.
That makes them uniquely qualified to spend quality time with Alzheimer’s patients, because they quite simply treat them like anyone else in a way adults find it difficult to do.
- Putting kids in contact with seniors fights ageism.
We live in a culture that worships youth and holds some serious prejudices about the elderly. The way the larger culture sees seniors can seep into our thinking against our best intentions. The best way to avoid it is to be around seniors enough to see them as the distinct individuals with a wealth of knowledge and experiences that they are.
Kids who have a chance to do that when they’re still forming their larger understanding of the world will be far more likely to see seniors respectfully and with compassion both as a child and as they grow older. It plants a seed for greater understanding that can pay off for years to come.
Putting a preschool in a nursing home is a good idea that thus far has only found limited adoption. The nursing homes that have made the leap have seen positive results. Hopefully others will begin to follow suit.