Rural Aged Care
A study for the ages: how La Trobe support inspired a CEO’s research into the value of intergenerational care
Partnership at a glance
- Inspired by a music program that brought together pre-schoolers and residents at Chaffey Aged Care in Merbein, near Mildura, for a warm, engaging celebration, parent organisation Rural Care Australia opened an early learning centre next to its aged care facility in early 2021.
- Its pioneering model highlighted how little academic research has been done to evaluate and understand the impact of intergenerational care, especially in rural settings, and its potential to reduce depression and loneliness in the elderly.
- Darren Midgley, CEO of Rural Care Australia, which operates the aged care centre as well as the new Generations Early Learning Centre, decided to make his own contribution in the research space. He is working towards a professional doctorate from La Trobe University, supervised by leading academics from its John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research.
- Midgley hopes his research, enriched by La Trobe’s rigour and support, will validate the efforts of Rural Care Australia to provide better care for elderly residents, as well as much-needed evidence to help inform aged care practice and government policy for the future.
When a new music therapy program began at Merbein’s Chaffey Aged Care – one involving pre-schoolers and their families – Darren Midgley was enthusiastic. As CEO of Rural Care Australia, he knew that elderly residents enjoyed mixing with young people. But he never imagined the program would be life-changing, and certainly not for him.
“What I saw blew me away,” he declares. “I was just not prepared for the level of impact that I saw delivered in this program.” Inspired by the spark created when residents interacted with pre-schoolers, his organisation has built an early learning centre next to its aged care facility at Merbein, near Mildura, to create a pioneering model of intergenerational care.
With support from La Trobe University, Midgley himself has embarked on academic research that will improve our understanding of the impact and potential of intergenerational care in rural Australia.
He’s combining his responsibilities as CEO with study and research towards a professional doctorate from La Trobe, supervised by leading academics from its John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research.
“La Trobe University has had a presence in Mildura for a long time, and a collegiate relationship with our organisation,” says Midgley. “I’d always wanted to expand my professional skills, but never really had the capacity with a family and a big responsibility as CEO. But I knew La Trobe really wraps itself around its students.
It has made a difference to so many people in our community, I felt it was incumbent on me to support that when I decided to study. There were shared values between me and the university, and between my organisation and the university. It just gelled.
As CEO of Chaffey Aged Care – now Rural Care Australia – for the past 14 years, Midgley has overseen innovation and expansion, but nothing on the scale of the 72-place Generations Early Learning Centre, the “jewel in the crown” that opened in early 2021. With its playground just metres from the aged care centre and a range of mixed activities, it’s a bold step towards true intergenerational care.
“Older care recipients often experience significant levels of isolation and high levels of depression,” Midgley reflects. “What happens when children come in? We saw during that music therapy program that these children would engage with care recipients; they'd touch them and dance with them and they would be so engaged. Those were some of the most amazing experiences I've had.”
As Rural Care Australia was refining its intergenerational approach, the ABC-TV series Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds screened, revealing heart-warming interactions between young and elderly. But as Midgley observes, there’s little research-based evidence available about intergenerational care in Australia.
“With intergenerational practice quite novel here, the opportunity to contribute to that has motivated me,” he says. “My supervisors Professor Irene Blackberry and Dr Sean MacDermott have been accessible and supportive and have made numerous trips to Mildura to help fine-tune my research project.
“Through this study, I get to prove to myself that I can achieve a higher-level academic degree. But it's also about evaluating and validating the work that we're delivering here and contributing to the body of knowledge around intergenerational programs, with a view to influencing practice and, perhaps in the future, government policy. There are so many opportunities to make intergenerational practice a larger part of aged care and early learning environments.”
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