Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds is back on ABCTV, but for the second series of this wildly popular program, preschoolers are engaging with older people who live on their own.
The second series explores whether forming bonds between young and old can help older people overcome some of the hurdles that stem from living alone, helping them live healthier, more satisfying lives.
Though most older Australians would prefer to remain living at home as they grow older, living alone can create challenges for older people, such as being cut off from their community due to health issues, and the risk of isolation and loneliness.
The researchers tracked many of the same measures followed in the first series: mobility, balance, physical strength and mood, but for this series they also measured quality of life, cognitive ability, and they had a particular interest in ‘frailty’ – which is an excellent predictor of things going wrong for older people.
Frailty is a recognised clinical condition in which a person has increased vulnerability to things going wrong with their health, says Dr Stephanie Ward, who is the consultant geriatrician on Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds.
Frailty in old age can appear as weight loss, weakness, fatigue and loss of muscle mass. It can also be reflected in lower food intake, abnormalities in walking and weaker bones.
To measure frailty, the researchers looked at how physically active the person was, their muscle strength, how fast they walked, if they were losing weight without wishing to, and energy levels or levels of exhaustion.
Without wanting to give too much away, Ward told HelloCare the ”interventions” undertaken over the course of the second series were helpful in many different ways for the participants.
“We really wanted to help make some positive changes for the participants, in terms of confidence, in terms of physical function and mood, but also in terms of providing new opportunities for friendships to develop.”
Many of the different measures the researchers tracked improved over the course of filming.
“We were really happy with the effects the experiment had for the participants,” said Ward.
As with the first series of Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, the science behind the program is interesting, but for viewers it is secondary to the human stories that develop over the course of the program.
“Outside of the health effects, it was really lovely to hear the stories from the older people about what it’s like to grow older in Australia today,” Ward said.
“It was also really lovely to see the children and hear from the parents about how the experiment has affected the [kids].”
As in the first series, Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds demonstrates the power of human connection.
Ward said after the first season, people often asked what happened to the show’s participants after filming. So, the second time around, the team dedicated more effort into helping the friendships develop during filming to continue afterwards.
After going through the shared experience of being on the show, Ward said many strong bonds were formed, including between the older people.
“The majority of the participants have kept in touch with one of the four-year-olds,” shared Ward.
“The older adults have also kept in touch and seen each other after the conclusion of filming as well.”
Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds was created to make people think about how we view older people in our society, and how we can create more intergenerational connections, while at the same time accepting the realities of life in Australia today.
“Multigenerational family living is not the norm in Australia,” said Ward.
“There is often segregation of older people from younger people. There’s separation of older people from family members because we live in different places, or we live in different parts of very busy cities. We all have very busy lives these days,” she said.
Ward says the first series inspired many great initiatives: “We want to continue that conversation and keep that momentum going,” she explained.
“Intergenerational opportunities can exist in differing forms. Families are a good place to start, but it can be in your neighbourhood or in your street. It might be within a school, connecting with older people in your community, or older people volunteering within your school.”
Ward herself is working with NeuRA (Neuroscience Research Australia) on an intergenerational program at a preschool in her neighbourhood. Called ‘Intergenerational Integration Initiative’, local older adults are invited to the preschool one day a week. The aim is to establish a program that’s sustainable for the community.
“We want this to be a sustainable model that could be rolled out to other community-based preschools or early childhood settings,” says Ward.
Ward says watching one of the show’s older participants regain her confidence was particularly touching.
“It’s really beautiful to see that happen,” she said. “What it means for her, and being part of the experiment, is that she has the confidence to go past the front letterbox and into her community again.
“At the same time, it wasn’t just confidence … there was a really, really special friendship that was happening alongside that,” Ward added.
And the effects weren’t just felt by the older person. “Her friendship with the little boy made such a big difference to the little boy and his family as well,” she said.
The bonds between young and old can be uniquely rewarding, shared Ward.
“We all want the best for our children, but the pressures of life means we can’t always be providing that focussed, sustained attention and care, which is a role that grandparents can play in family life.”
However, many families live geographically distant from one another, or sometimes grandparents have died. Children grow up, and are no longer interested in spending time with their grandparents, yet the older person still has much to give.
Ward says older people have so much to offer a young person.
All participants in the show have “done something really brave” by taking part, said Ward. The forging of friendships, the overcoming of fears and obstacles, all make for compelling television.
Season 2 of Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds airs on ABCTV on Tuesday nights at 8.30pm.
Image: Supplied by ABCTV.