Loneliness is a growing epidemic that the Welsh Government has promised to tackle. TASMIN LOCKWOOD takes a closer look into this generational work and its impact on people living with dementia

PEOPLE of all ages have come together to tackle loneliness and connect generations.

Ffrind i Mi brings together people living with demantia and schoolchildren – with both benefiting from the experience

The scheme is Aneurin Bevan University Health Board’s initiative to connect people living with dementia with younger generations through occupation and its success means it is now being adopted elsewhere.

Woffington House, last year’s winner of the South Wales Argus’ Health and Care Award for innovation, has been working with schools across the area – and even one in Yorkshire – on this project.

Manager Adam Hesselden, 34, believes people-oriented methods can be more effective than medicine. pharmaceutical solutions.

Occupational therapy is where people take part in activities that are meaningful to them and encourage engagement with others.

He said: “Residents should not be sitting in front of a TV all day that they are not even watching – we’ve actually found that sometimes things on television may be a trigger and cause agitation.

“We should be encouraging people to have a meaningful occupation.”

Which is why Mr Hesselden has been working with Ffrind i Mi to deliver intergenerational activities for his residents.

Children from Georgetown, St Joseph’s, Bryn Bach and Griffithstown Primary Schools, as well as Linthwaite Clough in Yorkshire, have been working with the care home on a range of projects; building a chicken coop, baking and playing with virtual reality.

The intergenerational work doesn’t stop when the groups part. Residents and children have been writing letters to one another, exchanging thoughts and ideas.

Collette Maxwell, a retired teacher who died this year, left a lasting mark on her pen pals.

In her memory, Woffington House purchased The Elephant Who Forgot, a dementia-friendly book which tells the story from a grandson’s perspective.

The book has been given out to schools to help children understand and empathise with dementia patients.

Ms Maxwell’s pen pals, Amy and Poppy, wrote a letter when she died: “We know that Collette is in a better place now, because she’s not in pain anymore,” it said.

The girls are just two examples of the dementia-friendly generation that Ffrind i Mi is building.

Nick Blackburn, headteacher at Griffithstown Primary School, said: “The work has been mutually beneficial. For our pupils, it’s about their confidence. The fact that can have conversations with people that they would never normally come into contact with is a real achievement.

“Their general outlook of the world is developing too – we have children who now want to work in the care industry, to be doctors and nurses, which wouldn’t have happened without this exposure. We are giving children aspirations.

“Often, older generations receive less respect than they deserve but the children are learning this respect as well as developing great patience.”

Woffington House acts as a strong case study for intergenerational work.

The care home has seen a 100 per cent reduction in ‘as and when’ sedatives over the last two years, as well as a 50 per cent reduction in antipsychotics.

“Difficult residents often become manageable when they know their young friends are due to visit,” Mr Hesselden said.

One man will always be clean shaven. Another, who is described as having personal hygiene difficulties, will have a bath.

“There is one gentleman in particular who gets agitated quite easily. He has no family so never has visitors. One day I said, come to Bryn Bach School with me,” he added.

“We were going up there to dish out Welsh cakes because the Year 6s had just finished their exams.

“Afterwards, I asked if he remembered where he had been. He said no – but that he knew he felt happy.

“It’s important to stress that even though someone with dementia may not remember where they have been, they remember how they feel. That is so much better than just giving them drugs.

“Antipsychotics add to a person living with dementia’s confused state. Why would we want to administer medications that add to that confusion?

“As a result of our reduction in the use of antipsychotics, we have also seen a 20 per cent drop in call-outs to an overstretched Welsh Ambulance Service.”

Mr Hesselden explains how the combined efforts to reduce antipsychotics and build relationships has impacted the care home.

He said: “We need to work together in our communities to create wonderful moments and memories, even though staff remember these activities, residents living with a dementia still know how good they feel as a result. This reduces boredom and isolation – then reducing behaviours perceived as challenging and then the need to administer PRN antipsychotics.”

“Residents at Woffington House are no longer sat feeling lonely, sedated, off their food and at high risk of falls.”

The use of antipsychotic medication was debated in the Senedd earlier this month and discussed in the Welsh Government’s Dementia Action Plan, which was published in February.

The Welsh Government accepted recommendations to review of the levels and appropriateness of using antipsychotic medication in people with dementia.

But new efforts to connect generations is not just targeted at those living with dementia.

Loneliness affects all ages and walks of life.

Claire Jordan, 54, who works for Ffrind i Mi and is also a Dementia Friend, is currently helping to build a lonely parenting group at Greenmeadow Farm, Cwmbran.

She said: “Ffrind i Mi are working with young people and with adults, but we also need to get those in-between ages.

“It has been long needed that everyone starts talking about loneliness.

“We all need a gentle reminding to look out for one another.

“It is as if we (Ffrind i Mi) are giving people permission to reach out. Loneliness is a serious issue and if we do not tackle it, it will only get worse because people’s mental and physical health is clearly being impacted.”

Ms Jordan believes lifestyle is the reason behind loneliness.

“I think we got here because everyone is just busy. No-one feels connected to their communities anymore,” she said.

“We work away from home and don’t talk to our neighbours, we drive to work so don’t use public transport, we are engaged in our phone.

“There is also so much miscommunication between generations.

“Take the Brexit vote – young people assumed older generations would vote leave and vice-versa, which has created tension.

“We want to create conversation between generations and hope that communities will spread this work themselves.”