Do any of us really ever enjoy growing up? Do we like becoming adults with responsibilities and pressures and the physical or emotional pain that comes with aging? Getting older doesn’t seem to be a great thing in the UK lately, with over 1 million elderly people feeling cut off from society and depression affecting over 20% of men and women over 65. I for one miss the days spent colouring in or making up stories about princesses, monsters and spies. Childhood is a great time because most of us don’t have to deal with too much bitterness and sadness that the world has to offer until later in life, so while we’re young children we can enjoy the simple things in life. Children have a certain way of looking at the world that we all spend our lives missing. So, what happens when you mix children with huge amounts of wonder and joy in the spirits with those who are likely to be lacking exactly that wonder and joy? That’s exactly what Channel 4 does in the nationally beloved T.V. programme Old People’s Home for Four-Year-Olds, and what we can all learn from this show will change lives.
The concept is simple: “What happens when pre-schoolers and pensioners learn together for several weeks?” After the success of the first season, when a pilot programme of integrating young children and old people began in Bristol, the producers of the show are going further this time. The second season of the programme follows a 3-month experiment of educating both four-year-olds with the residents of the largest retirement community in the UK. Based at Lark Hill Village in Nottingham, a group of residents attend classes with pre-schoolers to see what impact the integration has on both groups of people. This experiment looks at how the daily interaction will affect the mood, memory and mobility of the residents aged between 81 and 102 years old.
We’re now at the halfway point, and we’ve all been weeping at the heart-warming friendships that have come about because of this programme, like Beryl and Scarlett who recently lost her Mum who were showcased on this week’s episode. And no-one had a dry eye in the house when we heard about Ken, a widower who was heartbroken after the loss of his wife but managed to form a friendship with 3-year-old Lily. However, the benefits of Old People’s Home for Four Year Old’s go far beyond giving us all a good cathartic cry every week. By investigating the potential benefits of this type of programme on such a public forum, it’s showcasing to the world how we can help our elderly citizens in a better way. There is science at the heart of this programme and the show-runners are determined to find out whether there could be a new way to think about adult social care. Could children be a way to slow down the signs of age? How can they help support the mental health of care home residents? Will being surrounded by such positivity and lust for life help those in adult social care feel physically better?
Through activities like eating their lunch together, the residents involved in the experiment are encouraged to eat nutritionally which helps fight the statistic that 1 in 10 people over 65 are malnourished. It also ensures that the elderly people aren’t left to eat alone, which means that they are at less risk of feeling isolated and alone. It’s also evident that many of the older adults started the experiment with very low self-confidence and the researchers hope that the energetic and enthusiastic attitudes of the four years olds will encourage them to be braver. By giving them “a little push”, it’s hoped that the elderly people will stop avoiding activities due to fear, and thereby avoid further social isolation. The adults were tested before the programme began and many showcased signs of social isolation; but by forming friendships with young children, they are seen trying new activities like using the self-checkout in a large superstore and playing more games. Last night’s episode even showed us how Beryl was able to overcome a phobia of holding a baby chick, thanks to the encouragement from Scarlett.
One resident commented “I just want to feel capable”, and the experiment within Old People’s Home for Four Year Old’s is showing them they still are.
As Malcolm Johnson, Professor of Gerontology at the University of Bath states: “old age is characterised by isolation and a feeling that you are now alone”, so this experiment is showing a new way for the elderly to feel connected to other people and promote positive mental health within the community. It’s showing an understanding of the risks for the mental health of older people and trying to find imaginative ways to help them. Integrating local preschool children in care homes is something that can be implemented across the UK, so if this programme can teach us that there are noticeable improvements to be had for both demographics, then it could mark the start of something brilliant. I for one would love the idea of more friendships like Ken and Lily or Beryl and Scarlett. Not just to bring an energy boost and sense of joy to the elderly, but also allow the young children to learn about history, society and respect for the elderly.
Old People’s Home for Four-Year-Olds is more than just welling up at a 102 resident of a care home getting excited when a toddler suggests buying ice cream. It’s about understanding more about adult social care and what changes could be made in care homes across the UK to improve their physical and mental health. Our whole team at One Stop Social will be tuning in, not just to find out how the newly hatched chickens are doing, but to see how this social experiment could spell innovation for the social care sector. If we can find a way to help older people not just be less lonely, but actively participate in society; we can collectively improve the health of those we love and look after those who once looked after us.
By Elena Jones, Marketing Executive at One Stop Social.