What Happened When We Introduced Four-Year-Olds To An Old People’s Home
Melrose Stewart, Malcolm Johnson, 11 Aug 17
       

Get up and go. Channel 4

Lying on the floor pretending to roar like a lion can do wonders for an elderly man’s well-being. That’s not a scientific fact, but it was one of the surprising and memorable moments we observed while making a television program which introduced a group of very young people with residents of a retirement village.

The two episodes of Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds set out to explore the increasing isolation of older people within our communities.

The impact of young children and older people sharing daytime care facilities has already been shown to be generally positive. But this was the first time an experiment was undertaken within the UK to measure the impact of inter-generational interaction on the health and happiness of the older group.

Ten four-year-old children and 11 people in their late 80s were brought together for six weeks in a new nursery set within a retirement community in the city of Bristol. Before we started, the elderly participants were measured on their cognition, mood and depression, as well as physical abilities including balance and the ability to get up and walk (“Timed Up and Go”). These measurements were taken again at three weeks and once more at the end of the six-week programme.

The programme consisted of a timetable of activities in which the two generations were given time and space to engage physically and socially. It included games, occasionally requiring individuals to get down on and off the floor, walking outdoors, picnicking and participating in indoor activities using a variety of craft and art work. The final week also included an inter-generational sports day and a short theatrical production.

After three weeks, the halfway point, there were noticeable improvements in the residents’ measurement scores. Final measurements revealed significant improvements in the majority of metrics, with 80% percent of residents showed improvement in the “Timed Up and Go”. Grip strengths were up generally and activity tracker scores showed that the residents had become increasingly active over a 24-hour period. On sports day, one woman who could not recall the last time she ran, was seen sprinting off with her companion four-year-old in order to beat the competition.

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