Last week I watched the Channel 4 documentary ‘Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds.’
The programme followed an intergenerational experiment near Bristol. In this experiment 10 four year old children from a local nursery spent 6 weeks with 10/11 elderly residents. What would happen as a result of these intergenerational connections?
It was of particular interest as I have a 95 year old mother and a 92 year old mother-in-law in a nursing home about 20 minutes away from me.
The residents were all monitored beforehand for their mobility, mental state and hand-grip – a key indicator of underlying health issues apparently. You learn something new every day!
It was fascinating to watch the tentative first meetings blossom into full-blown relationships. Certain children took a real shine to certain adults embracing them wholeheartedly despite their sad demeanours, deafness or slowness amongst other apparent handicaps.
It was also lovely to see the youngsters piling into the residents’ lounge in the mornings. They would throw themselves onto their laps, give them big bear hugs, hold their hands to help them along, ride in their walkers and generally show unconditional and unfettered love and affection.
So how did this intergenerational experiment go?
Well, to be honest, you didn’t really need to see the numbers. The positive effects were self-evident with the most depressed, Zena, beaming with smiles; one of the most cynical about the whole thing, 89 year old Hamish with a prosthetic leg, rolling all over the floor pretending to be a roaring hungry lion much to the childrens’ delight; and Linda, who bewailed the fact she could no longer dance, literally running across the lawn on the specially curated Sports Day.
So wonderful to see!
And the results did indeed bear this out.
80% of the participants improved both their mood scores and mobility, with 70% improving their hand grip. The two most depressed ladies saw dramatically reduced scores meaning they were no longer classified as depressed. Both showed a new zest for life and much greater optimism about the future.
It was a real lesson in how much even the very young can add to an older person’s life and how much even the very old can add to a young person’s life. The power of intergenerational connections!
Moreover it proved that, even in such a short space of time, increased human connection, touch and love; greater mental engagement and stimulation and more physical activity can dramatically improve the quality of life of people in their precious final months and years, especially when it involves the unbridled curiosity, unedited banter and unlimited energy of a bunch of four year old kids!
I’ll certainly be discussing increasing the opportunity of intergenerational connections with the manager of our already outstanding nursing home.