Grandfriends Program reduces loneliness and isolation
An innovative approach to mental health is linking older people with children at The Prince Charles Hospital (TPCH).
The Older Person’s Mental Health Team (OPMHT) at TPCH have established an intergenerational care pilot project called Grandfriends, in partnership with The Prince Charles Hospital Early Education Centre. The program aims to reduce loneliness and social isolation in OPMHT clients with a primary mental health diagnosis.
OPMHT consumers visit the early education centre for a weekly get-together with a group of four-year-olds. They engage in a wide range of mutually beneficial activities including singing, reading, storytelling, flower arranging, role-playing, cooking and more.
The project provides OPMHT consumers with the opportunity to practise and enhance social interaction skills and build confidence and self-worth within a supportive therapeutic environment.
“There’s something magic that happens when you bring older people and young children together. There’s an engagement you don’t see elsewhere,” said Fiona Hope, Manager of OPMHT.
“They have something to look forward to, and the group gives them a sense of purpose and they feel like they’re imparting their own knowledge and wisdom to a younger generation.”
The group provides a wonderful connection for those Grandfriends who don’t have grandchildren of their own or don’t have them living nearby.
“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.
Parents of the children who attend the early education centre have also seen the great benefits the program provides.
“This is such a valuable initiative for both Grandfriends and children, building positive relationships and learning from each other,” one parent commented.
In addition to reducing social isolation and loneliness and building confidence and self-worth, Grandfriends also has physical health benefits, such as getting ready to go out, travelling to and from the venue and keeping up with busy four-year-olds. This all helps improve the older consumers’ activity levels and mobility.
Along with a better quality of life for the Grandfriends, the intergenerational program has positive impacts on the health care system.
“Research shows that people who feel connected to community, who have a sense of purpose, who have regular activities in their life are less likely to present to hospital than people who are feeling lonely or isolated,” explains Fiona.
Last year, the program received a highly commended at both the TPCH Staff Excellence Awards (Innovation category) and the Metro North Staff Excellence Awards (People Focus category).
It is hoped that the OPMHT team and the early education centre will be able to expand Grandfriends. The program was one of the featured projects at The Common Good’s 2022 Giving Day, and funds raised will be used to engage more older community members with children attending the early education centre.