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Unique Partnership Grows Between Youth, Elderly

By Staff | Apr 17, 2018

A?STUDY?IN?CONTRASTS - Young hands and more experienced hands all draw together during a visit by students of the Emmetsburg Education Center to Lakeside Lutheran Home for an afternoon of fun, compainionship and learning for young and old. -- Submitted photo

Editor’s Note: The following article has been submitted jointly by the Emmetsburg Education Center and Lakeside Lutheran Home. The article was submitted by Kelly Bay with photos by Brook Hayenga

It is the second day of a fledging partnership between Lakeside Lutheran Home and the Emmetsburg Education center.

Kids shuffle through the facility’s door with excitement, as small children fresh from a “school” bus ride tend to do. One four year old boy takes a look around at the unfamiliar faces surrounding him,

“Wow, a lot of new kids came to play this time!”

Never mind that the new kids are elderly residents in a long term care facility. Four year olds don’t have time for those kind of arbitrary distinctions. They are here to play. And, apparently, to ask questions.

“What happened to your leg?”

“Can I touch that spot on your face?”

“How come you can’t walk? Did you get hurt?”

“Well, no, I didn’t get hurt. My legs just don’t work like they used to, that’s just nature!”

Aging, it’s just nature. And it concerns Jaime Dodd, administrator at Lakeside Lutheran Home and Assisted Living, that much of our population has little exposure to the aging process.

Residents of long term care facilities often live a secluded existence. While their physical and medical needs are met and managed, their social and emotional needs can be harder to fulfill. Many of their friends are gone and family members scattered geographically, resulting in loneliness and isolation. Rates of depression and anxiety soar in these facilities. As one looks at the system, it becomes obvious why Dodd is committed to creating a new model of care for her residents.

Jamie Rouse, founder and director of the Emmetsburg Education Center, has concerns of her own for the children in her staff’s care. The growing emphasis on standardized testing places extreme pressure on students and teachers alike at an increasingly young age. Toys disappear from kindergarten classrooms, replaced with handwriting and reading materials. Opportunities for creative play are reserved for recess instead of incorporated throughout the day.

Some children soar under the system, others struggle. Regardless, much like the residents in long term care facilities, Rouse worries that while our children’s physical and academic needs are being met, they miss out on developing important social and emotional skills learned through play. She too, is committed to a different model of care and “Learning by Doing,” is both the Center’s motto and passion.

She watches as the two seemingly different groups share snacks, create art and read together. A game of beach baseball breaks out, an elderly resident pitching a beach ball to awaiting kids with pool noodles. He dodges the ball flying back at him and shakes his head no when Rouse asks if he ever played sports in his youth. “Well, now look at you, you’re the star pitcher!” His face beams in response and he throws the next strike.

Research indicates that intergenerational care is amazingly beneficial for both groups and while Dodd and Rouse are incredibly well read on that research, seeing the benefits in real life after just two “playdates” has been astounding.

“The kids are learning the kind of social and emotional skills we can’t teach them with books. They already recognize that they have to be gentler when playing with the Lakeside residents than they are with friends their own age. They recognize when they have to speak louder and when they may simply have to use nonverbal communication. They are accepting of differences and learning to interact with people of varying abilities.”

And they can’t wait to tell their families all about it. “Jace didn’t stop talking about the bus ride and his new friends from the time I picked him up all through dinner,” parent Katy Thomsen reported back.

For Dodd, that same research indicates decreased rates of depression and anxiety and an improved quality of life for long term care residents. On this day, one resident in particular caught her attention. He suffers from depression and often isolates himself, never participating in group activities. Today, she looked on as laughed out loud, actively engaging with the kids and other residents. He, also, couldn’t wait to tell his family all about it, replaying the events to his visiting son later that day.

There will of course be kinks to work out as the partnership continues to grow. Scheduling for one, as the first two weeks fell on the same day as the hair stylist’s weekly visit. Both Dodd and Rouse expect increased participation and benefits for all of the charges in their care. But as administrator and director work through the logistics of the program, their participants care about only one thing,

“When can we do this again?”