Taking part in the program would mean she would regularly attend a local intergenerational preschool, and be studied and filmed for a national TV show.
But Aesh had been feeling lonely since the death of her husband nine years ago, and she found she was not as connected with her community as she would like, even though she did have good friends.
Though “nervous” about it, Aesh, formerly an economics teacher, eventually decided to “give it a go”, and said the experience of being on the program has brought about positive changes in her life.
Meeting the four-year-olds for the first time gave Aesh a great “feeling of happiness” and gave the experience “another dimension”. It was “enriching” to be among the group of older people going through a profound shared experience.
Good conversation, laughter and gaining exposure to the local culture meant she “really did get a lot out of” taking part in Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds.
“It’s almost like I have allowed myself to go out and do different things. It’s opened so many doors to me,” Aesh said.
“It has given me an opening into a vibrant community and an understanding of how others live and others with similar ageing problems.
“They encouraged me to do things I wouldn’t have done on my own. We were able to do things I wasn’t able to do before.”
The experience took Aesh back to the days when her grandchildren, who are now adults, were young.
“I really loved having grandchildren, and playing with [the children] was really rewarding.”
Services to build social connections
Dr Stephanie Ward, consultant geriatrician on Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds, said the wildly popular television show reminds people of the good things in life, like human connection and laughter, but it also reminds them of other aspects of being human, and vulnerabilities such as loneliness and fear.
“It resonates with any age,” she said.
“It lets older people tell us what it’s like to be an older person,” Ward explained, and said witnessing the program was “humbling”.
When the older people were allowed to have “fun” they did things they didn’t think possible.
Endurance, strength, appearance, mood and memory all improved over the course of the program, as the participants developed social connections.
“Meaningful connections” are important not only to our state of mind, but also to our physical health, Ward said.
OPAN is helping link older people with services in their communities to help them remain connected. Through OPAN’s ‘Stay Connected’ website or their helpline (1800 001 321), OPAN can connect older people who might be feeling lonely with community visitor schemes, intergenerational playgroups, and community organisations such as men’s sheds, University of the Third Age, and Rotary.
OPAN also provides an Older Person’s COVID-19 Support Line, a Seniors Connected ‘Friend Line’, and services to help older people learn how to connect safely online.
Tackling loneliness is a community responsibility
Loneliness is a significant issue in Australia, as it is globally. Data tells us that one in four live alone, with nearly twice as many women as men living alone.
Craig Gear, OPAN CEO, told the webinar that in the last 12 months, some aged care facilities have had no visitors at all. On average, 40-50% of aged care residents receive no visitors.
But for older people, it can be difficult to take the first step and reach out for help.
“We’ve got to work as a community,” she added. We should be keeping an eye out for the older people in our community, and we can direct older people we think might be experiencing loneliness to OPAN’s services.
“We have a responsibility as a community,” said Ward.
You can contact OPAN to discuss your situation, and they can help you access services to help build social connectedness. On OPAN’s ‘Stay Connected’ website you can find details about community visitor schemes, intergenerational playgroups, and community organisations such as men’s sheds, University of the Third Age, and Rotary. You can also call OPAN’s helpline on 1800 001 321.