Home | News | An old people’s home for 4 year olds in Coogee
Rita (front, second from left standing with Arthur on a trip around Sydney. Picture: ABC

An old people’s home for 4 year olds in Coogee

A popular ABC TV program that sparked conversations about loneliness and social isolation among older adults has returned to screens for a second season.

In its debut season, Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds documented a social experiment in which 11 preschoolers were introduced to aged care residents in their facility. This time, older adults living in the community have volunteered to spend time with children at a specially designed preschool.

In the latest episode, which focused on confidence, volunteer Rita explained that she fell down an escalator after a man stumbled and grabbed hold of her. “I'm a shadow of what I was. I lost my confidence and I don’t think that comes back," she said.

Later in the episode, preschooler Arthur and Rita took a short trip around Sydney – something she would typically avoid – and ended up at an exhibition at the Royal Botanic Gardens.

When asked about the experience, Rita said: "I would never have thought that I could do this, let alone be here. I didn't in my wildest dreams think I would be able to go further than the front gate. I'm beside myself.

"It's as though I have comeback from the deep dead... thank you, Arthur."

Now, the series has inspired a pilot trial in Coogee that will see students at St Nics’ Christian Preschool work with older adults on a series of investigative, artistic and educational activities.

The project will run over 10 weeks and scientists will try to find out more about the mutual benefits of intergenerational activity, exploring areas like frailty and depression.

Associate Professor Ruth Peters, from Neuroscience Research Australia and UNSW Sydney, said early research indicates these connections could lead to better physical health and cognition among adults over the age of 65, and better interpersonal skills among children under the age of five.

“Children and older adults can be the perfect companions and build lovely partnerships where they both really care for each other,” said Peters.

And older adults are on board, as are teachers and parents. Peters and her team surveyed over 250 members of those groups and found that 92 per cent of respondents believed the project had the potential to bring about a range of benefits, including more understanding and friendships across generations.

They also felt it would provide unique learning opportunities for kids and improve communication skills, and that older adults would experience less loneliness and isolation.

Peters said: “Bringing together older and younger Australians in a day-to-day setting could have a major benefit across Australia, particularly with almost half of those aged 75-84 living alone with likely exacerbated levels of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

If the project is successful the team will test it with a larger group to find out whether it could be rolled out wider across NSW – and eventually across the country.

Results from the trial are likely to be available in the middle of 2021.

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