Providence Mount St Vincent in Seattle (US) is a nursing home with a difference. Five days a week the 400 elderly residents share the building with 125 children aged five and younger. This program is known as the Mount’s Intergenerational Learning Centre (ILC), and it is designed to combat the loneliness and boredom often associated with life in a nursing home. The elders and the preschoolers come together to enjoy a variety of planned activities such as music, dancing, art and storytelling. Many of the Mount’s residents, whose average age is 92, undergo a complete transformation in the presence of the children. Sleepy and unengaged just moments before, they come alive as soon as the kids walk in. Numerous studies have linked social interaction with delayed mental decline, lower blood pressure and reduced risk of disease in older adults. Intergenerational socialising has also been shown to cause more smiles and conversations amongst elderly people.
For the children, this is an opportunity to develop their social skills and personal beliefs in a positive way. This experience makes it more likely that as adults they will be more tolerant of older people, and will feel comfortable around people with disabilities and impairments. Inspired by this preschool inside a nursing home, filmmaker Evan Briggs has produced a documentary about the Mount called ‘Present Perfect’ which explores what happens when intergenerational connection is encouraged and facilitated. Her hope is that this idea will expand to other schools so that the elderly are better integrated into society and generational segregation becomes a thing of the past.