The idea for the ‘My Life Story’ Project evolved over a number of years as researchers at Deakin University explored the lives of older adults in care, and the limited opportunities that seemed to exist for them to interact with and influence younger generations. Such generative activities are integral for the mental health and wellbeing of older adults.
The researchers have also worked closely with adolescents on projects aimed at targeting depression and anxiety that so often occurs as this age group struggles to find their identity. Adolescence is primarily a time of self focus, with little attention given to the needs of others yet the benefits of giving may well help them to distil aspects of their identity.
Giving, as such, is a complex construct with the boundaries between giving and receiving being somewhat blurred. Those perceived as givers often report being the recipients as they experience a sense of purpose through their contribution. The modern social structure often makes intergenerational interaction difficult and sometimes impossible, leaving our older adults isolated and lonely and the younger generations deprived of social and historical connectedness through the stories that reflect wisdom and experience.
The ‘My Life Story’ project was aimed at bringing these two generations together.
Through funding from Deakin University the researchers were able to engage Newhaven College and Melaleuca Lodge, both of whom showed interest and excitement in the project. Over the preceding weeks a relationship was established between the secondary college and the aged care facility. Training sessions allowed the younger and older adults to explore what the project meant for them and some of the challenges they could foresee. Together, with members of the research team, the younger adults reflected on what getting older means, sharing some of their experiences of grandparents or their lack of.
More specifically, they thought about how they might help the older adults they were about to meet to tell their stories. The older adults too, thought about what it was like to be young – they reflected on what they saw as differences today from when they were young and how they might help the younger people learn about their lives
Over the following eight weeks, students from Newhaven College visited the project participants at Melaleuca Lodge and together they worked on the life stories. They talked, laughed and shared experiences. Some things about the older adults’ lives as younger people were hard for the students to believe. Some things seemed exciting and other things daunting. Some things seemed just plain boring. However, the stories flowed and understanding grew. The pages that follow give a brief overview of the study, it’s aims, method and findings.
You will also hear a little about the researchers who were involved, the funding body, and the project partners. The photographic records are of the participants and some of the interactions that took place between them – though a camera can only capture so much.