Her name is Zora. She speaks 19 languages and at 57cm tall fits snugly on your lap. She can play memory games and participate in exercises, read books and sing to you. From Belgium to Brightwater Madeley in Western Australia, the ‘cuddly human-like robot’ is being deployed to combat the growing loneliness and social isolation experienced by elderly people living in aged care facilities the world over.
Although technology can and does improve quality of life for all, can it really provide genuine connection through our innately human attribute of empathy?
With studies increasingly reporting the adverse effects of loneliness for the elderly, and growing ‘virtual’ connectivity of the young, intergenerational learning is man’s oldest and most useful tool. Intergenerational learning is the process whereby knowledge, norms, skills and values are shared between people of different ages through the discussion of shared experiences. Creating purposeful and ongoing exchanges of learning and resources among older and younger generations benefits everyone. Second to using fire, the banking of knowledge and learning from previous generations might even be a big part of human progression!
Bringing the young and old together in aged care through intergenerational programs has shown to bring health benefits and reduce social isolation for the elderly, whilst reducing ageism and increasing empathy in the young. From a broader perspective, such programs create an opportunity for society to challenge ageist stereotypes especially about the contributions of people living with dementia.
With a projected one million people who will be living with a dementia-related illness by 2050 in Australia, empathy, education and understanding will be much needed.
Not unique to Australia, the prevalence of dementia is growing world wide. In 2018, an interesting Italian study by Santini et al looked at Intergenerational programs involving adolescents. Initially the teenagers found the aged care setting to be confrontational and daunting, as captured by a student comment that reflected how many of his peers felt: “The elderly are a burden for young people who cannot find work. . . Italy is a country made of old people, and young people have to pay their pensions. . .” After six months of joint intergenerational activities, students slowly started to change their opinions on older people. “Elderly are often disregarded as they are deemed useless, but those I met are certainly not useless!
At the end of the program, conflict and confusion gave way to friendship, empathy, listening, and mutual understanding: “Friendship between young and older people is possible and is good. We can try to be more understanding towards older people and put ourselves in their shoes. We should not exclude them from society but exploit their experience for better facing life’s problems and thus making them feel useful.”
We’re living in an age where institutions and universities are trialling pilots and programs in order to study and conclude what seems natural and obvious: that the interactions and emotional dependence we have on one another is instrumental to living a life fulfilled, with health and well being the end result for all. Humans needs humans, and in particular, our young and not so young, gain so much from spending time with each other … it’s a simple fact that won’t change no matter how much technology progresses.
Heart and Soul Story currently runs an Intergenerational Connection program ( STEP – Senior and Teens Empathy Program) with students from Youth off the Streets Bowen College and Bupa Aged Care Maroubra. https://heartandsoulstory.com/intergenerational-programs/
Thank you to Heart and Soul Story’s Dementia Advisor, Diana Collings, for this thought provoking article. You can read more about Diana’s resources to aid people with dementia http://www.speckled.com.au/
Santini, S., Tombolesi, V., Baschiera, B. and Lamura, G. (2018). Intergenerational Programs Involving Adolescents, Institutionalized Elderly, and Older Volunteers: Results from a Pilot Research-Action in Italy. BioMed Research International, 2018, pp.1-14.
Zagoričnik, A., Bylykbashi, A. and Starc, A. (2018). Intergenerational programs as a solution to the social isolation of the elderly. Health of the Elderly, Conference Paper, pp.133-143.
The Conversation. (2019). A new project shows combining childcare and aged care has social and economic benefits. [online] Available at: https://theconversation.com/a-new-project-shows-combining-childcare-and-aged-care-has-social-and-economic-benefits-99837
This human-like robot is lending a helping hand in aged care homes – Create News. [online] Create News. Available at: https://www.createdigital.org.au/human-like-robot-aged-care-homes/
The New Humanism: Technology should enhance, not replace, human interactions. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/education-plus-development/2018/06/11/the-new-humanism-technology-should-enhance-not-replace-human-interactions/
Just as each remarkable sunrise can touch us with a feeling of amazement and admiration, so too can the energy of being in a room of people with over half a century between them as they give thanks and recognition for time shared together.
The Recognition Gathering week of STEP (Senior and Teens Empathy Program) saw students from Youth off the Streets Bowen College show their gratitude to their Elders in front of their community of parents and teachers.
The students had worked on gifts of respect as diverse as booklets of images of their time spent together, interspersed with pictures from their Elder’s homeland … to the making of an intricate dream catcher.
The Elders too, passed on their words of gratitude and recognition in cards. Some offering simple advice for the future such as ” Don’t smoke” … others crafting words from the heart about the journey ahead that the Teens will be able to turn to for years to come.
One of many incredible outcomes from this 8-week program, is that one of the students who was so motivated by her weekly visits with her Elders, she has chosen to go on to do her work experience in the Aged Care home this term.
“Who of us in our digitalized and remote lives has not wondered about our disappearing sense of connectedness — face to face, person to person and within a tribe? The more we find ourselves hitting “send,” “reply,” and “post,” the less connected we often feel and become … there is a growing longing to return to a sense of real community ”
Mike Bodkin, Executive Director, Rites of Passage Vision Quest
STEP was designed using a Rites of Passage framework as a program that aims to nourish and develop the souls of adolescents on their path to find purpose and meaning through a vision of life that is bigger than self. Simultaneously, it gives purpose and meaning to our wonderful Elders to share their stories and their advice from their life journey.
“A modern-day rite of passage is achieved when the community create experiences for youth which are perceived to be transformative and, in fact, offer them increased status within the community and facilitate their healthy transition through adolescence” Blumenkrantz, 1996
Heart and Soul Story is excited about the potential opportunity to work further with Youth off the Streets to implement STEP as part of their Service Learning curriculum for 2019.
With one final week of our 8 weeks of STEP coming up next week, it was time to get some feedback from the @youthoffthestreets Bowen College School Manager on what she has enjoyed about the program…
“Watching the young people take the time and having patience with the Bupa residents …. seeing rapport building up more and more each session between the students and residents.”
” Our students are already showing empathy and are learning from experiences from the past.”
“We really value this program. It is worthwhile, community spirited and builds empathy.”
Bringing community back together like this is as much about educating our young people’s hearts as well as their minds.
#seniorsandteensempathyprogram #intergenerationalprogram #intergenerationalprograms #stories4connection #youthoffthestreets #heartandsoulstory #bupaagedcare #bringingcommunitybacktogether
Around 2,500 years ago, Plato summed up the power of music up perfectly when he said
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”
The power of music to connect was seen is spades as laughter, tears and plenty of toe-tapping was shared by students and their Elder buddies during yesterday’s session of STEP (Senior and Teens Empathy Program).
A Spotify playlist of songs from yesteryear and today provided the perfect conversation starter and brought the generations closer as they teamed up in two groups for a ‘fierce’ competition to guess songs.
In a 2013 review of the research on music, Stefan Koelsch, music psychologist at the Freie University Berlin, described several mechanisms through which music impacts our ability to connect with one another—by impacting brain circuits involved in empathy, trust, and cooperation—perhaps explaining how it has survived in every culture of the world. ( Jill Suttie, Four ways Music Strengthens Social Bonds)
Music gives us an oxytocin boost … Oxytocin is a neuropeptide affiliated with breast-feeding and sexual contact, and is known to play an important role in increasing bonding and trust between people. Now researchers are discovering that music may affect oxytocin levels in the body.
Music is included as part of the design of STEP sessions as deliberate means of empathy building. The power of the love of music helping highlight another example of an equaliser between generations.
#seniorsandteensempathyprogram #intergenerationalprogram #YouthofftheStreets #BupaAgedCare#intergenerationalprograms #heartandsoulstory #stories4connection #music4life #musicconnectspeople
So great to see both the students from Youth off the Streets and their Elders enjoying their time together so much during the STEP.
Unfortunately, last week the YOTS students had a clash of programs, so missed their visit to Bupa Maroubra … but no fear .. with the wonders of modern technology, the hip and happening septuagenarians and octogenarians ( phew that’s a mouthful) managed to record these lovely messages for their teen buddies.
John, born in Greece in 1933, is one of the residents at Bupa Maroubra participating in STEP (Seniors and Teens Empathy Program). He is loving how polite and interesting and the teen he has been partnered with is.
” I like how intelligent she is, it’s very nice to talk to her and
I like the students learning about our lives”.
John was asked what he’d rate the ‘life conversation’ sessions he’s had so far with the teens from 1 – 10 … he gave it a 10.5!
When Judy, aged 71, was asked what she is getting out of the Seniors and Teens Empathy Program thus far she replied
” I don’t think she has heard a story like mine before… I didn’t want to see her cry, but I knew I had a heart reaction … I can touch someone else’s life”.
The students have described one of their favourite things about their sessions being that
“ We get to see that they are very much just like us”.
Everyone has a story that can touch another’s life in some way.
We just need to make the time and space to listen.