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Photo: ABC

The Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds: take a peek behind the scenes

“Maureen, hurry up!” Michaela urges her friend. Aiden does much the same with his older buddy Eric, who has sat down to rest. “We are coming last,” he tells Eric as he pleads for him to carry on.

This scene is playing out in the first episode of the new ABC TV program ‘The Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds’.

The idea is simple – a group of ten 4-year olds are paired with aged care residents for seven weeks, working and playing together, to see if the physical and mental wellbeing of the residents improves.

The show highlighted the reality of aged care living for some residents and can be shocking, even for seasoned aged care observers.

“I’m not interested in having a purpose,” said Brian, one of the participants on the show. “I mean, everybody thinks that they should do everything they can to keep us alive. We’re here to die and the sooner the better.”

Maureen and Michaela. Photo: ABC

But as the first episode progresses we can see the enjoyment residents get from their new young friends, their energy and laughter was infectious.

This experiment is the first of its kind conducted in Australia and Professor Susan Kurrle, director of the Cognitive Decline Partnership Centre at the University of Sydney, worked on the show and believes the implications of a successful trial could be huge.

The resident-to-resident relationship building that has arisen as a result of the experiment has obvious benefits to health, she said. Allowing young children day to day contact with their elders can also combat ageism.

Kurrle spoke with Aged Care Insite about her work on this funny and heart-warming show.

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  1. This program is highlighting the plight of elderly people in aged care who have lost much of their mobility. Many (most of them?) sit waiting for the next meal or watching a community TV set. We’ve investigated meeting the physical needs of this group but it’s now time to look at their mental needs and I’m not sure that this program, or a similar program involving a playgroup, is the answer. Are either programs sustainable in the long term?
    Many aged care facilities are recognising the problem and purchasing buses to take residents on outings but this adds to the ever increasing costs, when many of the residents have to rely on the pension.
    I’d like to see volunteers from the public being encouraged to be part of life in aged care facilities

    • Yes good comment Audrey.
      Novelty visitors is great but a sustainable connection with your local community, now that adds real meaning and purpose to life at any age.
      Mark Sewell

      • My question to both of you – did you watch the whole series? that is a great model to have and utilise around the country. and there is benefit on both ends, for the adults and the kids. Physical and mentally they all got involved, and they stay in touch still.
        I can guarantee you the kids got a huge confidence boost out of it also.

        Some of the residents have family that don’t come to see them, so having these kids come to see them- I reckon gave them a new family connection.
        A great show which should be looked at around the country

  2. Why this is great my question is simple -why on earth do we need a study to show this? Older adults are first and foremost human beings. Whatever you need for mental health, so do older adults. Whatever you need for wellbeing, so do older adults. If anything, they need company more than you simply because of the huge amount of losses they have experienced compared to you.

    Until recently, older adult and child contact was the norm. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to support older adults. And for that matter, it takes a village to support each of us. The sooner we break down barrier of my rights the happy and healthier we will all be, and happier as communities.

  3. A most inspirational story. Thank you for the wonderful and emotive journey it should be implemented throughout Australia where possible. It has been done in Japan for years, and it works!

    It’s about time that a program looks at our Age Care System and offers a hopeful and positive solution. To see a ‘base model’ that could potentially return the most basic human requirement ‘connectivity’ is a ray of sunshine. As clearly seen, in this program, both the children and the elderly gained from their interaction with one another. The children receiving focused attention (and what child doesn’t love that) whilst the elderly are helped, by the children, to exert themselves beyond what they had imaged was possible for them to achieve. We owe this to our elderly.

    Finally the ‘Nuclear Family Model’ is being re-addressed. People are not an island. We need each other. A family doesn’t have be related by blood to be ‘family’ but we do need to care, support and show genuine sincerity and respect; and what better place to start then by allowing our children to display that natural giving and essential essence of kindness that resides so uninhibited within most, whilst at the same time learning about consideration.

    It also may help those parents who work a full day, to allow their child to be in care and under supervision in a safe place. A most sensible solution one would think.