Hospital Care

Grandfriends: The life-changing ageless play program in Brisbane

Every kindergarten room is filled with laughter, enchantment, and joy – but at one childcare centre in Brisbane there are also incredible bonds forming between older community members and the group of 4-year-olds.

On Thursday mornings, the faces of the kindergarten children at The Prince Charles Hospital Early Education Centre light up when their ‘Grandfriends’ enter the room. They cheer and yell out their names, as if these newfound older friends were rock stars.

It’s hard to believe that only a few months ago these children didn’t know their Grandfriends. Now they see them regularly, as this small group of older community members, who are past patients of The Prince Charles Hospital, come to the centre each week to engage in ageless play.

During their weekly get-togethers they engage in a wide range of purposeful, mutually beneficial activities including singing, reading, storytelling, flower arranging, role-playing, cooking, and more. And when this play time is in session you cannot wipe the smiles off the faces in the room.  

Friendship that Transcends Generations

“I really look forward to seeing the children. Great for companionship and cuddles,” one Grandfriend said.

“I am enjoying happiness in my heart that I haven’t felt for a long time. I feel at home here,” said another Grandfriend.

That Grandfriend cried tears of joy at her first session and now she wears her blue card pinned to her top with pride every single week.

“There’s something magic that happens when you bring older people and young children together,” said Fiona Hope, Manager of the hospital’s Older Persons Mental Health Team.

“There’s an engagement that you don’t see elsewhere.”

Another participant was very reserved and withdrawn when he first started attending the sessions. Now he sits alongside the children, enjoying their conversation and their affection.

“The kids started going up to him and interacting with him and almost pushing to interact with him. What we’ve seen over several weeks is that he’s smiling more, he takes part in activities more.  His transformation has been incredible and there’s been a big change in his sense of self-worth,” said Fiona.

The Transformative Program Connecting Young and Old

There is no denying that these weekly sessions are a heartwarming experience for everyone involved, but there are benefits that extend beyond the walls of the childcare centre.

“By coming along to the group each week, they improve their mobility, their mental health improves, they have something to look forward to, the group gives them a sense of purpose, they feel like they’re imparting their own knowledge and wisdom to a younger generation,” said Fiona.

One Grandfriend is a musician and shares his love of music with the children.

He has brought his guitar into the sessions on several occasions and played songs the kids would know so they can have a sing along together.

Another week, he taught the kindy kids drumming beats and they were enthralled, banging along with glee.

Not only do the children and this special Grandfriend connect through the music, but music is a powerful way to enhance the ability to recall memories - something thought to help slow the impacts of dementia.

This Grandfriend also created an oil painting of the childcare centre’s resident Butcherbird, aptly named ‘Legs 11’ by the kindy kids, which he gifted to them.

Painting gives this Grandfriend a sense of purpose and worth and encourages him to be more mobile.


Potential Benefits of Grandfriends for Older People

It might surprise you that about 1.6 million people over 65 are living alone at home in Australia, and many of them experience social isolation and loneliness. This isolation and loneliness can lead to other health issues. In fact, social isolation is thought to be one of the biggest risk factors in physical and mental health decline.

Grandfriends and ageless play can help with:

  • Reducing social isolation & loneliness
  • Feeling valued and increased self-worth, self-esteem, and confidence
  • Improved health and wellbeing as older people become more active when traveling to and participating in Grandfriends activities
  • Enhanced connection with community and a sense of purpose

Along with a better quality of life for older participants of an intergenerational care program, there are positive impacts on the health care system as well.

“Research shows that people who feel connected to community, who have a sense of purpose, who have regular activities in their life actually are less likely to present to hospital than people who are feeling lonely or isolated,” said Fiona.

Hopes to Expand the Grandfriends Program

Within this childcare centre alone there are options to extend the program in other classrooms where the Grandfriends would be welcome.

This year, during The Common Good’s Giving Day, we are raising funds so we can reach a greater number of older people in the community who may be socially isolated or lonely. With additional funding, we can bring them to this childcare centre and others to participate in this transformative program.

Would you like to donate to ensure more older people can be part of this program? Click here.

Published: November 18, 2022

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