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.
Youth off the Streets Bowen College students were back for more conversations and laughter at Bupa Aged Care Maroubra for Week 3 of STEP ( Seniors and Teens Empathy Program).
Students fed back that their first week last week together with the residents was “exciting, fun, interesting and cool”, citing the top things they enjoyed ” hearing their stories” and “just hanging out together”
One of many highlight moments of Week 3 was when one of the students beckoned me over to say how cool it was that when she asked her buddy Elder one of the conversation starter questions
“Who is a person in history you admire most? ” she said the former female president of India ….. because she “made everyone look up to a woman”.
Not only are the residents teaching the students a thing or two about history and important role models …. they are proving to be quite amazing role models in resilience themselves.
The Elders taking part from Bupa Maroubra are reporting back how wonderful it is to have the company of such “polite, lovely and very funny students”.
It should come as no surprise if you have sat through a bulleted “death by powerpoint meeting”, that Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos has replaced powerpoint presentations with narrative memos at Amazon.
What is surprising is that it’s taken us this long to realise we need to go back to basics.
What would you prefer … someone, to intrigue you with the story about what’s happening in the picture of Rosa Parks, or provide you with a list of historical bullet points?
As Carmin Gallo reminds us;
Narrative storytelling might not have been as critical for our survival as a species as food–but it comes close. Anthropologists say that when humans gained control of fire, it marked a major milestone in human development. Our ancestors were able to cook food, which was a big plus.
But it also had a second benefit.
People sat around campfires swapping stories. Stories served as instruction, warning, and inspiration.
Stories are persuasive… they inform, illuminate and inspire. Neuroscientists have found that emotion is the fastest path to the brain. In other words, if you want your ideas to spread, story is the single best vehicle we have to transfer that idea to another person.
We knew it back in the days of sitting around campfires, it’s good to see the richest man in the world has figured it out too ….
Read the rest of Carmin’s article here and next time you feel tempted to use bullet points, remember…
Bullet points on a slide, don’t inspire.
Stories that convey heart and soul, do
I’d love to see the result of a collaborative effort between the likes of Melbourne base ThomsonAdsett who are leading the way in Aged Care design in Australia and architect Takaharu Tezuka, who has designed this incredible space for children in Tokyo (that allows for freedom, increased outdoor activity, open plan to foster social interaction, trees for climbing)
Just imagine an intergenerational facility full of life and soul that their combined creative brains could come up with???
Still reeling from shock that I won!
My heartfelt thanks to Awesome Foundation Sydney for the opportunity to pitch my idea for STEP (Seniors and Teens Empathy Program) last night and the incredible effort you all go to, to give community-based projects a much needed helping hand.
Thanks to all those last night who believed in the vision of what I am doing!
I was honoured to stand alongside 4 amazing women, each with incredible community projects including Taboo Talk, Attitude Foundation Limited, Cook For Life Foundation Jewelz A Hoopz – check them out… they rock, and I am already thinking about a collaborative program bonanza that the Seniors and Teens will love ! All in time ….
A special shout out and thanks also to Kids Giving Back Co Founder Ruth Tofler-Riesel for your constant belief and support, help recruiting the teens for the pilot, and introduction to Youth Off The Streets Bowen College Maroubra who will be the next teens to take part in STEP Bupa Australia Aged Care Maroubra.
I’ll keep you all posted on how it goes!