Towards intergenerational centres?

We get two perspectives on Channel 4's 'Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds', from Rasanat Fatima Nawaz (focusing on the old people) and Sarah Ward (focusing on the children).

This two-episode social experiment provides a refreshing and heart-warming look at issues faced by older people in care homes, and offers an interesting solution. For six-weeks, a group of 4-year-olds get to spend time with older people taking part in various activities including walks outside, picnics and a sports day.

Before the experiment, older participants underwent tests measuring their cognition, mobility, and mood. An astonishing 90 per cent had low mood, with two people severely depressed. They were tested again at three weeks and six weeks; giving viewers something to anticipate.

As the experiment began, one resident, 88-year-old Hamish, was reluctant to get involved but after some encouragement from the children he was more than happy to roll around on the floor; despite proclaiming it wasn’t possible for him to play active games with the children because he has an artificial leg. It was clear the children gave the older people a confidence boost. 80-year-old Linda was very dependent on her walking frame, but managed to run on the sports day with children cheering her on.

With many uplifting moments, the programme did not shy away from bringing up key issues being faced by older people in their day-to-day lives. Many of the older people highlighted increased experiences of boredom, loneliness, and symptoms of depression: issues that much research into improving the care of older people is trying to manage and prevent.

When one of the residents, Mary, an 86-year-old retired teacher, was asked whether she gets bored or lonely and how she deals with it, her reply was 'I find something else to do. Or I go to sleep… that gets rid of the loneliness'. Mary’s response had viewers welling up and made this intergenerational initiative even more appealing, as it gave residents something exciting to take part in, something to look forward to.

The test results at six weeks showed that the low mood had improved and participants had awakened physical capabilities they thought they could no longer achieve. This leaves two questions: is this approach here to stay, and could we implement it on a national level?

- Rasanat Fatima Nawaz is a MSc Cognitive Neuroscience student at University College London (UCL). 

This was such a beautiful and inspiring documentary. Ten children appeared in a retirement community in a whirlwind of excitement and noise to bring vitality into the lives of the elderly residents. The children had no reservations about spending time with the elderly and rushed over to introduce themselves and encourage them to get involved. Before long the children were pushing the elderly residents’ boundaries and fixed ideas by giving the elderly a reason to try. The children’s endless enthusiasm and optimism led to the elderly participating and significantly increasing in confidence, mood and physical abilities. Watching the children encourage the elderly, invite them into their games and start genuine friendships demonstrates the possibilities and benefits of intergenerational contact within our society.

Some parents keep young children away from residential homes when visiting the elderly because they believe it will distress the children – this experiment shows otherwise.

The children learnt about disabilities, differences between their generations and that 21 is not actually ‘really old’. The elderly participants experienced benefits such as increased strength, improved mood and an ability to be hopeful about the future. Children are shaped by their experiences and this experience is one which many believe should be replicated due to the benefits of non-medicinal therapy. The children went home speaking of their new friends with enthusiastic happiness, and continued to visit with their families. The children were inquisitive and caring when faced with intergenerational differences, they picked up walking sticks, were gentle when playing and offered kind words.

The saddest part of this experiment was the depressed and bored state the elderly were in before the children arrived. This experiment will hopefully be replicated in many other settings with the possibility of permanent intergenerational centres. 

- Sarah Ward, Assistant Educational Psychologist, HSR Psychology

Watch the programme now.

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