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Residents and students at a disco organised as part of the iGEN program. Picture: Supplied/Mercy Health.

Intergeneration program’s growth benefits all

A Victorian aged care and high school’s intergenerational program has reached a
new level of success.

Dubbed the iGEN program, students from Catherine McAuley College are paired up with residents from Mercy Health Bethlehem and Mercy Health’s senior living community, Golden Rise Bendigo.

This year, there was an increase of 26 per cent of students taking part in the program compared to last year.

iGEN coordinator Ellen Francis said the growing demand for a place in the iGEN program was largely thanks to the unique and innovative design of the program.

“The iGEN program has been running at Mercy Health Bethlehem since 2020,” Ms Francis said.

“In 2023, we added weekly visits to Golden Rise senior living. It was great to see the program expand, allowing more students and residents to participate.

“We have also increased the number of reciprocal visits and community activities between the residents and students, which resulted in our residents attending school events, including the school production, Year 10 class masses, and opening of new buildings at the Coolock campus at Junortoun.”

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare revealed that over half of older people living in residential aged care showed signs of depression.

Promoting intergenerational relationships through programs such as volunteering may help to counter negative mental health effects, with research showing promising results.

Feedback from the students found that the program had a positive impact and their attitudes towards aged care had changed.

A class survey found more than half of the student cohort would consider a job in aged care in the future.

Year 10 student Caitlyn said she had recently noticed the skills she learns in iGEN benefitting other parts of her life.

“I have definitely changed as a person in my day-to-day life from the iGEN program,” she said. 

“I first noticed this at work [in hospitality] when I was clearing an older couple’s plates and having a conversation with them. I knew exactly what to say and how to keep the conversation flowing.

“I later realised this was due to skills I learnt through iGEN!”

Mercy Health Bethlehem resident Sister Kathleen spoke fondly of all students involved and said that the residents enjoyed the weekly visits and looked forward to planning their sessions with the students each week.

“Last year, I prepared something every week for my students, such as an art experience,” she said.

“A lot of work went into it, but I got a lot of joy seeing them enjoy the sessions. The students responded really well, and I was so impressed with them.

“Preparing these experiences is good for my brain as I love education – I’m a born educator.”

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