Have you ever tried saying ‘no’ to a four year old?
They have a way of distracting and charming you until, before you know it, you’re doing something you had absolutely no intention of doing.
That power of persuasion is the key to a new TV series, ‘Old people’s home for four year olds’.
The documentary series follows a group of older retirement home residents who are brought together with a group of pre-schoolers in a unique social experiment.
The purpose of the experiment is to see if inter-generational contact improves the wellbeing of the older people, and in turn, helps them to lead happier, healthier lives.
Over the course of the documentary, the two groups get together every day for seven-week period, and take part in a range of carefully planned activities that are specially designed to encourage physical activity, social interaction, learning and happiness.
An Australian first
Debbie Cuell, Executive Producer on Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds and Head of Genre at Endemol Shine Australia, told HelloCare the experiment has been done successfully in the UK, but this is the first time it has been brought to Australia.
She said geriatric and child education experts scientifically analyse the results of the experiment.
“For the adults – they will be tested for their physical health, including strength and balance, and also their mental health,” she said.
The future of aged care?
Inter-generational living is common overseas, but the model has not received much attention in Australia. Until now.
Ms Cuell said the model of care could transform the way we care for older people in Australia.
“If the experiment is a success, then it could certainly provide a model of care that could be implemented,” she said.
“We’re here to die”
The first episode of ‘Old people’s home for four year olds’ is incredibly moving, and is both happy and sad.
Interviews with the older residents reveal high levels of depression, sedentary lifestyles, loneliness, and health problems.
“I’ve felt very lonely at times,” says former Philharmonia and Willoughby Musical Society chorister, Maureen, 81.
“I’m very lonely,” says Shirley, 90, who has three children, five grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
“I have no hobbies,” says Eric, former timber importer, 85.
“We’re here to die, and the sooner the better,” says former life insurance salesman, Bryan, 85.
But it doesn’t take long for the children to cast their spell over the older generation. Though some of the older residents are reluctant, they eventually succumb to the children’s charms.
When the group go for a walk to gather materials for a project, Eric, who has health problems, drops behind when the group goes to return home.
Super-confident and talkative Aiden comes the rescue, coaxing and encouraging Eric up the hill and back to the group.
“Get up Eric,” he said. “We have to keep up.” “Keep going.” “Keep walking.” “Follow me.” “Go Eric.”
It’s hard not to be moved by Aiden’s kindness and the way he enthusiastically encourages Eric along.
The children help the residents step out of their comfort zones, and realise they can do more than they thought possible, and to enjoy life again.
As the number of older Australians increases, we will have to find better ways to care for them. Could the solution to a healthier and happier life for older Australians be as simple as spending time with four-year olds?
If ‘Old people’s home for four year olds’ is any indication, I hope so.
Episode 1 of the five-part series, ‘Old people’s home for four year olds’, will air on Tuesday, 27 August, 8.30pm on ABC + ABC iview.