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Can a Channel 4 experiment revolutionise how we care for old people?

Article By: Melissa McAlees

For some people, the idea of spending six weeks with 10 four-year-olds is exhausting, but could it have the opposite effect on a group of old people?

Credit: Channel 4

In a new experiment Channel 4 is bringing together a group of care home residents and pre-school children over several weeks to assess the impact on their health, wellbeing and life expectancy.

Made by CPL Productions, the two-part series 'Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds', will be shown on 1 and 2 August at 9pm.

Murray Boland, creative director of CPL, said: "We’ll all be old one day which makes this a subject that has the potential to affect many people.

"We’re excited to work with Channel 4 on this pioneering project, drawing attention to the impact of loneliness on the health of the elderly."

Based on an existing American scheme, 11 St Monica Trust residents and ten children from local Bristol pre-schools have been selected for the two-part programme with filming taking place at the Trust’s Cote Lane retirement community.

The children and older people will follow the same timetable, whilst a team of scientists - a gerentologist, a geriatrician and a physiotherapist - will measure and analyse the older group's physical and mental progress throughout.

At the end of the six-week experiment they hope to prove scientifically that bringing the two generations – divided by almost a lifetime – together, can transform the physical, social and emotional wellbeing of the older people for the better.

Extraordinary scenes

The Trust’s residents who took part in the experiment have spoken openly about the issues facing older people including their struggles with depression, lack of mobility and loneliness.

Yet in a series of 'extraordinary and moving scenes', the experiment shows the transformative power that simply being around the children has for the older people.

Old Peoples Home For 4 Year Olds

A volunteer taking part in the experiment is 88-year-old Hamish Hall, who has been a St Monica Trust resident since 2012.

A self-confessed sceptic, Mr Hall was doubtful about the benefits of appearing in the show, but by the end of the first episode he can be seen lying on the floor playing sleeping lions with the children – much to their delight.

He said: "Having initially been somewhat reluctant to get involved, I was very pleased to have taken part. They were delightful children and I was pleasantly surprised how well behaved they were."

The programme sees a number of improvements in the residents’ mental and physical health including 80-year-old Linda, whose mobility is affected by osteoporosis.

Described as "very down" when she first joined the experiment, Linda’s blossoming friendship with four-year-old Amiya finally sees the two of them running across the croquet lawn hand-in-hand during a sports day.

'Extremely proud'

Credit: Channel 4

David Williams, chief executive of the St Monica Trust, said: "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 ground-breaking project has only strengthened the Trust’s desire to create open communities that actively encourage contact across different generations.

"As well building play areas at all of our sites, the Trust will establish a children’s nursery at the heart of one of our retirement communities, and will continue to nurture the wonderful relationships established by this project between our residents and the children of the local pre-schools."

The St Monica Trust operates retirement communities across Bristol and North Somerset and its fifth retirement community, The Chocolate Quarter will open in Keynsham this October.


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