Behind The Scenes of The Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds


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


The Value of Intergenerational Activity in Aged Care Facilities

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St Kevin’s have been running programs with their students visiting aged care facilities for some years and recently I received these heart-warming photos of secondary students visiting with the residents of the Royal Freemasons Coppin Suites in Moubray, Melbourne. The residents enjoy the interaction with the students, as they often miss their own grandchildren whom they sometimes don’t see much for various reasons,such as they are living interstate or overseas. The students also gain a lot from these visits, as is illustrated by one student in particular who wrote back to the Lifestyle person at the facility, thanking her for allowing him to spend time with the residents. He particularly singled Donald Ross out in his letter, saying that Don had made the greatest impression on him. You may remember that I wrote about Don in another blog; he has limited hearing and speaking and was unfortunately the victim of financial elder abuse. As a result of a court case against the abuser he was able to sell his asset and received sufficient finances to move to this lovely facility, which I was able to assist him to find.

The student expressed that he now has a whole different perspective of living life to the fullest with a disability through Don sharing his story with him, something he said he could never have imagined before. For the students it’s not just about being helpful, it can be a powerful experience as it’s often the only interaction they might have had with an older person.

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The students gain a valuable insight into how people lived in another generation through the stories the residents share with them. It helps to break down barriers and gives these young adults an understanding of the challenges faced in earlier times, and the challenges elderly people face now.

The social benefits of mixing elderly aged care residents with the youngest generation was the focus of an experiment funded under an initiative of the Victorian Government Department of Health Aged Care Department. An intergenerational playgroup was conducted in a residential aged care facility at Percy Baxter Lodges, North Geelong in 2009. The benefits accruing to the elderly residents, parents and children attending was evaluated as positive for all three groups. The residents became more actively involved and confident in interacting with the children over time and the children came to see walking frames, walking sticks and wheelchairs as quite normal and enjoyed being doted upon by the residents. One of the parents noted that her daughter was happy to just have someone sit quietly with her as she played, listening and talking with her patiently; the mother had not realised the value of this herself, filling her child’s day with frantic activity.  So, a great learning experience all round. Playgroups Victoria provides information on running intergenerational playgroups.