A lonely old man, with little hair, doing nothing.
This was the picture drawn by a five-year-old, whose class was asked to draw what came to mind when thinking about the elderly.
After months of interacting with seniors from a nursing home, however, the pre-schoolers started to draw different types of pictures.
The same child drew seniors in wheelchairs, singing songs together in a group.
Another child drew an old person outdoors, under the sun, walking alongside a girl on a skate scooter.
"They used to draw pretty stereotypical representations of the elderly but after the inter-generational programmes, the drawings became more sophisticated," said NTUC Health chief executive Chan Su Yee, at the International Ageing Asia Innovation Forum at Marina Bay Sands last Wednesday.
"There is an appreciation that the seniors are not all the same and the children were able to have a specific understanding of the needs of the seniors, such as why some need walking sticks," she added.
The outcomes of breaking out of stereotypical thinking, and developing empathy and respect were some of the findings she presented regarding the efficacy of inter-generational programmes in Singapore.
Programmes that foster connections between the young and the old are gaining traction.
NTUC Health, for instance, launched them in 14 eldercare centres in 2017. Now, there are 36 centres running them weekly or monthly. And about 1,500 seniors and 1,000 children participate in these interactions each month.
Two years ago, St Joseph's Home in Jurong West launched Singapore's first inter-generational playground and an infant and childcare centre within its nursing home.
The authorities said they were planning for elder and childcare facilities to be co-located in some 10 new HDB housing developments.
One of them is in Kampung Admiralty, where a childcare centre and an active ageing hub located side by side officially opened last year.
Inter-generational programmes are popular in countries such as the United States and Japan, where research has shown that they benefit both the young and the old.
Last year, an expansive survey - the first in 20 years - by the Ohio State University of 180 inter-generational programmes in the US found that they reduced loneliness in older adults and increased levels of engagement for dementia patients who interacted with children.
Among adults who participated in such programmes, 97 per cent indicated they felt happy, interested, loved, younger and needed.
Children demonstrated higher levels of empathy and a greater ability to regulate their behaviour than those who did not take part.
At NTUC Health, seniors read to the children, play memory games, do exercises and go on outings with them.
Apex Harmony Lodge, a purpose-built nursing home for persons with dementia, was one of the pioneers in having a regular inter-generational programme, funded by the Lien Foundation, since 2015.
The curriculum for the pre-schoolers is co-developed with the Church of the Holy Trinity kindergarten.
The young and the old meet once a week for 18 weeks to enjoy arts and crafts activities, have meals and go on excursions together.
"The nursing home residents are visibly happier and they feel appreciated when they receive encouragement and compliments. For instance, a resident was very touched when a child made her a bangle out of clay," said Ms Siti Arsat, a senior therapeutic programme executive for Apex Harmony Lodge.
"Some children felt upset at the last session and wanted very much to meet the residents again. They also wanted to express their appreciation for the seniors by making farewell presents for them."
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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