Bridging the generation gap brings unexpected rewards, both for the participants and the observers. At the Kah Tai Care Center, in Port Townsend, Washington, we learned the value of perception through the eyes of children. A group of fourth, fifth, and sixth grade children became the willing subjects in what was titled our "Spring Walk Program."
The overall objectives of increased activity for the center residents, increasing the knowledge and awareness of the children for the richness of aging, and assisting in the children's acceptance of death while building respect for life and age experiences were met.
The children learned about the full lives many residents had led. They learned they could have and be a friend to someone from a vastly different age group than their own.
The adults learned or remembered the exhuberance the young have for the "here and now. " They learned that "kids are still kids" even though their world is very different than the one the elders remembered.
Coordination is required between the school and care center. A time frame must be agreed on; in this case 10:15-10:45 A.M. Part of this time was a scheduled recess at the school. Written parental permission was obtained by the school for children participating. The maximum number of children per day never exceeded 25; 15 are much easier to monitor and assist. They were oriented carefully with written and verbal instruction regarding walking people, pushing wheelchairs, etc. Clear and concise rules were given and were appropriate, i.e. do not bring food due to special diets, visit the same person consistently, etc. Assigning residents was attempted and proved inappropriate. Allowing the children to make random selection of "a friend" seemed to work well.
This program was supervised by an RN. It could be initiated by an activity department, however, orientation by an RN and availability of staff nurses would still be helpful. This program was effective in a facility of 91 residents, with young visitors arriving on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Not every resident had a visitor and residents were free to refuse company at any time. Their response was overwhelmingly positive, however.
Some of die highlights of the program were the brief written reports by the children on die resident they visited. A few are included. We were also able to include the school in a project involving our float for the local "Rhody Parade. "
Although the original objectives incorporating outside walks and exercise for residents were not met - partially due to weather and time factoid - we feel this has been a very successful approach to a wellness gerontologie experience, increasing tile joy of living for all concerned.