A recent interview by Aged Care Insite with Professor Susan Kurrle, director of the Cognitive Decline Partnership Centre at the University of Sydney, who worked on the recent ABC documentary The Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, provides some interesting insights to the program. (Photo from Aged Care Insite)
This experiment is the first of its kind conducted in Australia and Professor Kurrle believes the implications of this successful trial could be huge. The ABC show follows the progress of a group of aged care residents taking part in structured activities with a group of pre-schoolers who visit their aged care home on a regular basis.
The resident-to-resident relationship building that has arisen as a result of the experiment has obvious benefits to health, Professor Kurrle said. It was a surprise side effect of the experiment and those relationships have continued in a healthy way. Some residents felt quite lonely and isolated prior to the trial.
Allowing young children day-to-day contact with their elders can also combat ageism she said. The children who took part also benefited growing in their confidence and interactions and developing of empathy. One particularly touching moment was when one young child, whose parents described him as a “soft soul”, showed empathy for a depressed resident who was not participating or speaking and had his eyes closed, by going up to him and being with him, drawing the resident out until he broke into a beaming smile.
This experiment was the first time that structured activities were used to encourage interactions between the children and adults as they worked together to achieve particular goals. Other intergenerational programs with pre schoolers have not been structured in this way, with the children simply playing side by side with the residents. Professor Kurrle pointed out that humans are pack animals and crave the companionship of family. For residents whose families are far away or unable to visit life can become lonely. This program allowed them the opportunity to interact with young children, as they would with their grand children. The health benefits were proven by standardised health tests before and after the program.
Professor Kurrle assured the interviewer that the children weren’t encouraged by producers on the show to behave in certain ways to develop the story. All behaviour on the show was spontaneous. The only people in the room were the participants, the instructor and some of her assistants to help with the children. The cameras and microphones were hidden.
Suggestions coming out of the success of the program about how to do more intergenerational programs in aged care facilities include encouraging playgroups to set up their activities within aged care facilities. Another was for aged care providers to consider building childcare facilities within their buildings when building a new facility or upgrading an existing one.
Trailer for the ABC program