We glibly talk about how the cycle of life brings us back to a childlike existence once we reach our dotage, but I had this brought home to me last week, through a very specific example.
I was on the phone to my elderly mother, and once we’d made arrangements to meet for lunch, she said, “Well, at least that’ll give me something to do.”
I asked her if she often found herself with nothing to do, or at a loose end, and she told me that these days she regularly got really bored.
She’s always been a woman with many interests, but recently they seem to have lost some of their thrall for her. I was reminded of nothing so much as a child (me perhaps) in the summer holidays, complaining of being bored and having it pointed out (by her perhaps) that there were plenty of toys and games around for stimulation and amusement, not to mentioned the great outdoors, which should be full of wonder and interest to any enquiring mind with time on their hands.
Oh the irony.
Then I recalled that at our shared lunches, she often failed to finish her main meal, but could always find room to squeeze in a portion of sticky toffee pudding. Another behaviour I recognised from childhood; the reasoning that somehow sweets go to a different part of your tummy.
Could it be that these two sections of our communities could help each other out here? If we have small children and elderly citizens complaining of being bored, wanting some stimulus from another human - wanting someone to play with - could we not put them together?
There have been experiments along these lines in the UK, and, more prolifically, in the USA. The positive impact on the residents of old people’s homes who have had pre-schoolers regularly visit has been shown beyond argument, but what about the children? The experience encompasses a great deal of learning for them, particularly in what we would normally refer to as PHSE, but over and above that, it’s the growth in confidence that is most striking.
I think it’s to do with the children feeling useful, knowing they have a role to play in both encouraging and physically aiding the old folk to take part in activities. They empirically understand the challenges of old age, they are dealing with some of the same issues of powerlessness themselves. They develop a sense of responsibility towards the elderly people with whom they are interacting, and have many and varied of their own needs met in return.
In times gone by, as we tended to live in larger groups of extended families, young children would have benefitted from spending time with older generations on a daily basis. These days, it’s up to us to ensure that we don’t lose the value of this interaction for those at both extremes of age within our community. So why not make the effort to bridge that generational gap and rescue both sides from their boredom?