Channel 4 has recently broadcast two programs showing how older people are helped by more interaction with the younger generation.
Ten residents of a care home run by St. Monica’s Trust, a residential service for older people in Bristol, participated. They were brought together with a group of pre-school children over several weeks to take part in activities and discussions.
At the start of the project, the older people spoke openly about some of the problems they faced in their lives. These included loneliness, depression and lack of mobility. Surprisingly, as the project continued, these problems diminished. There was clear evidence of increased wellbeing, improving physical mobility and increased sociability. Gerontologists and other experts monitored people’s progress as the project continued.
Carehome.uk reports David Williams, the Chief Executive of St. Monica’s Trust, commenting on the transformation:
“Everyone at the St. Monica Trust is extremely proud of our residents for the bravery they have shown in discussing so honestly the issues that affect older people.
Seeing the benefits of this groundbreaking project has only strengthened the Trust’s desire to create open communities that actively encourage contact across different generations.’
The effects of this interactive project was so striking that the Trust is planning to establish regular connections with local pre-school nurseries, and even to establish a children’s nursery as part of one of their retirement communities.
How it works
This project, similar to others running in America and Japan, gives us ground for thought. Are some of the issues faced by older people not always due to age? Perhaps some issues, even the physical health issues, are due in part to social and lifestyle influences. Certainly, social interaction in this project produced remarkable change for some of the participants. I wrote recently about research showing that social interaction was felt by older people to be important for their wellbeing, together with access to outdoors.
The Bristol project illustrates this with the added dimension of playfulness which children bring. Parents of the children involved confirmed that the influence was two way: one parent confirmed that their child was more articulate, outgoing and confident as a result. Perhaps play, being active and interactive, are important missing elements which could transform our thinking on age and the support we provide for our older generations.