Intergenerational live-in student programmes for meaningful engagement: Creating cohesive and supportive collectives in aged-care facilities

Aust Occup Ther J. 2023 Jan 10. doi: 10.1111/1440-1630.12857. Online ahead of print.


Background and objectives: Older adults in residential aged-care facilities (RACFs) experience segregation from society and face limited opportunities to meaningfully engage on a social and/or occupational level due to various structural and systemic challenges. An occupational therapy-coordinated intergenerational live-in student programme (ILiSP) with allied health students was successfully pioneered across Sydney (Australia) to facilitate ongoing intergenerational contact. We explored how ongoing intergenerational contact influenced meaningful engagement of older adults in RACFs by investigating routinely collected clinical data and exploring stakeholders' perspectives.

Research design and methods: We employed a concurrent nested mixed-methods design. Residents' attendance in weekly organisational activities and students' monthly volunteer hour reports were analysed to produce statistics for demonstrating the changes in residents' activity attendance alongside ongoing intergenerational contact. Qualitative data from discussions directed by the nominal group technique (NGT) with staff, management and students, individual interviews with relatives and residents, and narrative clinical documentation were thematically analysed.

Results: The Wilcoxon signed-rank test indicated that residents' activity attendance increased during intergenerational contact. Qualitative data yielded three main themes-interdependence, meaningful engagement, and kinship-all associated with intergenerational contact as part of established ongoing relationships. The NGT highlighted consensus on on-site living for maintaining a cohesive and supportive collective.

Conclusion: Despite structural and systemic challenges within RACFs that dissuade community integration, ILiSP created opportunities for students to connect/reconnect residents to new/established networks and to support residents to maintain or re-engage with previous lifestyle preferences. Therefore, ongoing intergenerational contact fostered a cohesive collective in support of the social and occupational needs of residents, which should be capitalised on by policymakers (e.g., the National Aged Care Mandatory Quality Indicator Program) and interested organisations.

Keywords: healthy ageing; long-term care; occupational therapy; psychological wellbeing; social isolation.