and whether the elderly could dance in limbo, accompanied by children holding the baton at a reasonable height. Then they play poke-ass, and can be thrown. It sparkles like clockwork at the Domaine des Lys tavern, the retirement home in Vottem, commune of Liège, where a belated carnival party is celebrated on this weekday.
Twelve children between the ages of 3 and 12 have been living in the house since September last year, and have been removed from their homes for various reasons, along with about two hundred elderly people. The boarding school where the children stayed during the week, in the nearby village of Milmort, was completely refurbished and an emergency solution was sought. There was plenty of room in the Domaine des Lys, for as in many nursing homes in Wallonia many beds were empty.
Fermabel, a Belgian umbrella organization for aged care, calculated in August 2020 that around 10 percent of beds in Walloon retirement homes were still empty, double what they were before the coronavirus pandemic. This is partly due to the high number of deaths in the highest age group. But there’s more going on.
High inflation in Belgium due to the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis has forced many nursing homes to increase rates in recent months, said Vincent Frederik, president of the Walloon Federation of Rest Homes. RTL info. On average, a bed in a Walloon nursing home became about €150 more expensive last year, up to €1,800 per month. If you compare this with the minimum Walloon pension of around €1,600, you will see that older people can have problems if they are brought up. This is why they have to stay home longer and leave nursing homes with empty beds.
In the case of the Domaine des Lys, there was so much empty space that an entire wing of the building could easily be provided for children. This inadvertently created a social experiment with a single possibility win-win situation. Can battered children find peace close to their grandparent figure and, conversely, the elderly no longer need to feel lonely because children keep them company, while together at the same time ensuring a better occupation of the house?
Half a year down the road, the experience seems to be a modest success, at least when there’s something to celebrate. The staff of both the boarding school and the nursing home go around after lunch in clown suits or dressed up as a Nintendo Mario character. dozens of elderly people, whether in a wheelchair or not, watching the scene at the front of the room; There, children and old people dance together. “When we get older, we go back to our childhood,” says Jean-Marie Moormans, 78, who brought his wife Alberta to the Domaine de Lys last week. Jupiler beer tubes are distributed in the room. There are cakes for children.
92-year-old Maria, who immigrated from Sicily decades ago, finds everything so contagious that she seeks guidance. “I want to dance too,” she cried, and after a moment moved forward with a working hand in her flowery dress. There she must be careful not to be run over by a boy in an Aladdin suit who is racing through space with an old lady in a wheelchair. Genevieve Fassbender, the director of the nursing home, looks on at him with a smile from afar.
Communication with children benefits me, I don’t miss myself so much
Paolo (76) Residing in a nursing home
She says her organization didn’t have to think long when the boarding school asked if there were any rooms available at her place. But in practice, it turns out that it is difficult to find times when the schedules of children and the elderly overlap. “The kids don’t usually come back from school until 4am and that’s when many of the older people want to eat dinner. After that, they want to take it easy until they go to sleep. We quickly realized that the holidays were the best times to bring the two together.” .
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For example, children and the elderly have celebrated Centerclass, Christmas and Halloween together in recent months. “With Sinterklaas I saw the old people act like grandparents. And during Christmas, no one with us was alone.”
Clown in hospitals
In the brasserie, people cheerfully continue to the next game. 65-year-old François Gollon, a man without many teeth in his mouth, is clearly enjoying the carnival party. “I used to work as a clown in hospitals to cheer up the kids,” says the former firefighter, who ended up in a nursing home due to a work accident. He painted Paolo (76) in the form of a panda bear for the occasion. “The connection with the children is good for me. Then I won’t miss my king so much.”
And the children themselves, what do they think about it? Aden (10), who was dressed as a ninja, was not used to dealing with old people. He hardly sees his father. “When we’re with them, it means we’re going to do something fun. And I’m used to them now,” he says. Shun (12) and Gabriel (12) are less enthusiastic. They find it “embarrassing” to talk to older people because the topics they “want” to talk about do not align with what they like. However, Antonella Manuya (37), the children’s supervisor, recently saw something beautiful. “The more they are together, the more they get used to each other. They just relax with each other.”
The experiment at Domaine des Lys is coming to an end. The youth boarding school renovation should be completed on July 1 and then the children will return. But, says director Fassbender, “we will continue to celebrate the holidays together. We have seen that this has great benefits for both groups.” It is not yet known if the trial will follow elsewhere in Belgium.
A version of this article also appeared in the March 22, 2023 newspaper
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