University helping elders stay connected during lockdown

University helping elders stay connected during lockdown

An intergenerational learning program at Griffith University has taken advantage of video technologies to help a group of elders in a NSW aged-care home bridge physical isolation amid social-distancing measures brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Designed by alumnus Greg Cronan, the weekly program involves 30 students in Year 6 engaging in video calls with elders for reciprocal learning activities based on the school curriculum.

Cronan said the program helps “alleviate some of the negative effects of social isolation, boredom and loneliness” as residential aged-care homes deal with the lockdown.

The program began as intergenerational research project aimed at exploring whether reciprocal learning could be achieved between school students in a classroom and elders in an aged-care home using video conferencing, as opposed to co-located activities where both age groups are physically in the same room.

Cronan, who completed a Bachelor of Business (Honours) investigating intergenerational learning in an online environment, revealed that the results were overwhelmingly positive.

“As a result of these interactions students have developed more self-confidence, are more attentive in class, learning outcomes have increased in addition to improved ‘real-time’ conversational and enquiry skills,’’ he said.

“This has been complemented by an increase in student attendance rates. The students have also developed a deeper sense of empathy, gratitude and respect of elders. They have also gained a richer understanding of history by speaking with primary sources – the elders – about school subjects, rather than searching the internet for information.”

Cronan said that the students have formed better relationships with their own grandparents and family, even those with behaviour and intellectual difficulties.

Reciprocal benefits

The program also received affirmative feedback from the aged-care facility’s healthcare staff and management.

“We’ve been told that the residents love seeing and speaking with the students,” Cronan said.

“According to observations by the facility manager, these interactions have become a ‘calming intervention’ for elders who have high levels of anxiety, depression and were self-isolating in their rooms long before coronavirus.”

Griffith Business School’s Professor Anneke Fitzgerald, who supervised the project in its research stage, expressed pride on how Cronan is running the current program.

“We are proud to be part of it and hope to see similar results with younger children (age 3-5) connecting with elders in a community setting during this health crisis” as the use of technology to connect older people with children is rolling out in different contexts,’’ she said.

“Now more than ever we need to nurture our connections with others and develop best intergenerational practice for programs such as these as one solution to loneliness and isolation.”