Nursing homes don’t exactly have a happy, cheery reputation. But when this retirement facility opened a daycare, it changed everything.
Providence Mount St. Vincent is a nursing home located in Seattle, Washington. Operated by Providence Health & Services—a non-profit healthcare organization—“the Mount” houses more than 400 seniors in need of daily care.
At first glance, St. Vincent might look like a typical retirement home. The residents have their own rooms, receive medical care, and engage in social and recreational activities. But there’s a special reason the seniors here are particularly content.
That reason is the Intergenerational Learning Center (ILC), a childcare facility integrated into the nursing home. Opened in 1991, the daycare allows young children to interact with the Mount’s senior residents on a daily basis.
For many seniors, being sent to a retirement home can lead to feelings of isolation. This is exactly the kind of problem the program seeks to remedy by making “the beginning of life to the end of life the best years” and “linking that full circle,” according to Charlene Boyd, the facility’s administrator.
Although the children have their own separate daycare area, the entire St. Vincent facility is licensed to operate as a childcare center. This is what allows the intergenerational exchange to take place.
The ILC helps pre-school children learn about the aging process, become comfortable being around older and disabled adults, and form lasting bonds. Meanwhile, St. Vincent’s residents have their lives brightened by interacting with the youngsters.
The innovative program is a unique way to bring together individuals who are at the opposite ends of their lives. While the seniors’ average age is 92, the kids are anything between six weeks and five years old.
The two groups meet five days a week and engage in a variety of activities such as drawing, playing, and packing lunches for the homeless. It’s a valuable experience, both for the elderly patients and the 125 children involved in the program.
As 75-year-old resident Mary Gonzales told news reporters, “My heart is full. Because they’re so adorable, they’re so wonderful, I love them… they make my life.” For residents of St. Vincent, it’s a pleasant reminder of their own children, who have long grown into adults with families of their own.
Boyd said the daycare helps fulfill St. Vincent’s goal of making the residents’ remaining years “meaningful, life-affirming and engaging.” Rather than reinforcing the negative stereotypes of retirement homes, St. Vincent is a “place where people come to live, not come to die,” she added.
Boyd’s own son Ryan was one of the first enrolled in the program. Now 23 years old, he said the experience helped him develop a “need to help people.” He is currently training to become a firefighter.
Indeed, many parents have reported that they have noticed a clear, positive difference in how their kids behave with seniors and people with disabilities after taking part in the program. Despite their tender age, the experience seems to help the children develop a sense of emotional awareness, according to staff.
The program is so popular with parents that it has a waiting list of two and a half years for children to join. As one father commented, the “added bonus” of interaction with the elderly “makes the program that much better” than a typical daycare.
To Donna Butts, the director of Generations United, an organization promoting intergenerational participation, the benefits are obvious. Seniors in these programs are more confident, social and have better overall health than those in standard retirement homes, she said.
Meanwhile, Eileen McCloskey, who has worked in multiple nursing homes, said she immediately noticed a difference in the demeanor and wellbeing of the residents at St. Vincent thanks to the program. Recalling her first experience with the ILC, she said, “There was a joyous, raucous noise coming down the hallway that you just don’t associate with long-term care.”
The unique program has inspired a documentary called Present Perfect. Directed by independent filmmaker Evan Briggs, the film explores the process of aging in both children and the elderly.
Briggs said the inspiration for the film came after observing the children and seniors interact at St. Vincent’s. She added that the documentary reflects on mortality, generational segregation and other important topics.
The documentary was filmed in 2012-2013 and is currently in the editing stage, with a planned release in early 2017. The crew has raised more than $100,000 on Kickstarter to cover the film’s costs.
With the number of adults aged 65 and older predicted to double in the next 25 years, it seems that programs such as the ILC are going to be needed more than ever. It is thought that there are currently as many as 500 intergenerational facilities in the United States, with more opening every year. Based on what’s happening at the ILC, that can only be a good thing.