A new concept in old people's homes in France. The idea is simple, but revolutionary: combining a residential home for the elderly with a crèche/nursery school in the same building.

Magazine - Building bridges

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Building Bridges

By Linda Baxter

Being old is when you know all the answers, but nobody asks you the questions. (Anonymous)

Six months before she died, my grandmother moved into an old people's home and I visited her there when I was in Britain. She was sitting in the living room with about fifteen other residents, mostly women, half of them asleep. The room was clean and warm, with flowers and pictures, and the care assistants were kind and cheerful. 'The Weakest Link' was on the television ('to keep their brains active' one of the assistants said), and the only other sound was snoring and embarrassing digestive noises. People only moved when they needed to be helped to the bathroom. It was depressing. Gran talked a lot about how much she missed seeing her grandchildren (my nieces, aged 7 and 5), but I knew from my sister that they hated going to visit her there and, to be perfectly honest, I couldn't wait to get away myself.

So I was interested to read a newspaper article about a new concept in old people's homes in France. The idea is simple, but revolutionary: combining a residential home for the elderly with a crèche/nursery school in the same building. The children and the residents eat lunch together and share activities such as music, painting, gardening and caring for the pets which the residents are encouraged to keep. In the afternoons, the residents enjoy reading or telling stories to the children and, if a child is feeling sad or tired, there is always a kind lap to sit on and a cuddle. There are trips out and birthday parties too.

The advantages are enormous for everyone concerned. The children are happy because they get a lot more individual attention and respond well because someone has time for them. They also learn that old people are not different or frightening in any way. And of course, they see illness and death and learn to accept them. The residents are happy because they feel useful and needed. They are more active and more interested in life when the children are around and they take more interest in their appearance too. And the staff are happy because they see an improvement in the physical and psychological health of the residents and have an army of assistants to help with the children.

Nowadays there is less and less contact between the old and the young. There are many reasons for this, including the breakdown of the extended family, working parents with no time to care for ageing relations, families that have moved away and smaller flats with no room for grandparents. But the result is the same: increasing numbers of children without grandparents and old people who have no contact with children. And more old people who are lonely and feel useless, along with more and more families with young children who desperately need more support. It's a major problem in many societies.

That's why intergenerational programmes, designed to bring the old and the young together, are growing in popularity all over the world, supported by UNESCO and other local and international organisations. There are examples of successful initiatives all over the world. Using young people to teach IT skills to older people is one obvious example. Using old people as volunteer assistants in schools is another, perhaps reading with children who need extra attention. There are schemes which involve older people visiting families who are having problems, maybe looking after the children for a while to give the tired mother a break. Or 'adopt a grandparent' schemes in which children write letters or visit a lonely old person in their area. There are even holiday companies that specialise in holidays for children and grandparents together. One successful scheme in London pairs young volunteers with old people who are losing their sight. The young people help with practical things such as writing letters, reading bank statements and helping with shopping, and the older people can pass on their knowledge and experience to their young visitors. For example, a retired judge may be paired with a teenager who wants to study law. Lasting friendships often develop.

But it isn't only the individuals concerned who gain from intergenerational activities. The advantages to society are enormous too. If older people can understand and accept the youth of today, and vice versa, there will be less conflict in a community. In a world where the number of old people is increasing, we need as much understanding and tolerance as possible. Modern Western society has isolated people into age groups and now we need to rediscover what 'community' really means. And we can use the strengths of one generation to help another. Then perhaps getting old won't be such a depressing prospect after all.

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Hi everyone,
Firstly, I would like to thank the writer for expressing good ideas about the topic. Secondly I agree with writer but I'd rather to add point here, we can aware and encourage society to keep older people in their homes and look after them rather than build old people's homes. In addition, when old person living at other home that sense him isolated, will lead to cause health and psychological diseases.

A very good initiative by the west countries to incorporate lonely old people with the future generation whereby keeping them occupied and allowing them to lead a worry less life. Other countries specially the developing countries as a lot more to learn, and must induce such systems for solving one of many crucial problems that these countries are facing as of today.

This is an excellent idea. In isreal girls aged 18-19 go and do their gonational service in old pepole homes. Its called 'Vehadrta'. The go there and makes the eldrely happy by having discussion's with them. Its very important; it hellps the elderly remember their memories, and also helps the girls geting advise in different topics from people who have Life experience.

This article gave me an idea a very good one. I'm a member of an association here in Algeria, we are a group of students and we try to help others as possible as we can. Last time I was listening to the radio and they talked about old people's homes and some old people started to cry saying that they need contact with young people they need their visits and they youth to give them more energy. Their words touched me a lot and I wanted to help. I talked with my friends from the association and till now we are trying to find ways to help them. This article inspired me a lot. So thank you very much to the writer. :)

Hi every body article about the elderly or old people is very touching and interesting.we have to look after them very carefully they know each and every thing they help to build relations successfully between individuals.teaming them with children helps to build relations more strong and stronger they teach the values of life in every aspect.I really felt happy after reading this article

Dear Team,
I have a confusion about the last multiple choice question "Why are intergenerational activities important nowadays?" According to the last paragraph, why don't we choose B here?
Thanks

Hello DoctorHiStreet,

That answer is incorrect because the text does not say that Western communities are isolated, but that different age groups within those communities are isolated.

Best wishes,

Peter

The LearnEnglish Team

undoubtedly , it is revaluation idea in western society ,but other community they deal with this situation in my country which is Sudan especially in rural area ,older people play a big role in helping growing kids even discipline them , nevertheless gradually this important of elder become less in urban area the style of life and lack of spaces in department .

in my opinion ; EU's community is going to be more individual ; they prefer to live in small families ; they separate generation .
the extend families have had and still many advantage to all ; everyone can give a help from the youngest to the oldest ; it keep relations warm , of course there are many problems but the can dial with it without the wide separation seen on modern families .
i guess its a time to return to the clan concept but with a modern perspectives .

the thing that make me crazy , that in the poor country (like in africa or arabic country) the problem of the old people is not so important because in these country the old people have a very important role and place in the society despite the difficult economic conditions because the culture and the tradition of these country give a lot of respect for the old people , but in the rich country around the world old people have a lot of problems despite all the possibilities of these countries, it is really a big mystery

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