I played a geriatrician in Old People’s Home for Teenagers

It is the that brings together from different generations to benefit everyone. This is the central idea behind ABC TV’s The Old People’s Home For Teenagers and its predecessor, The Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds. The older people in both shows are shown alongside teenagers and preschoolers.

I am a Geriatrician. This is a doctor who specializes in medical care for older people. I was one of the two geriatricians who took part in this television experiment. This is why I became involved.

Read more: Curious Kids: why do people get old?

The benefits of mixing it up

It may seem obvious that mixing groups of different ages is a good thing. Imagine how wonderful it is when grandparents get to spend time with their grandkids. When people of different ages are together, they can share experiences and perspectives. Meaningful connections can develop.

There can be meaningful connections, as Addison did with Annalise. EndemolShine Australia, CC BY-ND

In Australia, however, many older people do not have the same opportunities. Multi-generational homes are not the norm but the exception.

A quarter of people 65 years and older who live in private homes are alone. Around 200,000 people live in retirement communities, and about the same number of them live in residential aged care. The latter two, by definition, only accommodate a single generation.

Intergenerational programs can overcome these barriers through the creation of a -structured and supported platform where two age groups are able to interact regularly.

The programs can be used by a wide range of people, including toddlers, university students, independent retirees, hospital patients, and even elderly care residents.

Read more: A new project shows combining childcare and aged care has social and economic benefits.

Programs can take several forms, for example:

  • Playgroups are held in aged-care facilities
  • The same facility provides both childcare and aged-care services
  • Older volunteers run formal mentorship programs to help young adults.

Aims to help older people feel better, find a purpose, and have more joy while also assisting young people to develop their social skills, confidence, and empathy. These programs could also combat ageism by creating compassion and understanding for each generation and challenging negative stereotypes.

Read more: Kids dressing up as older people is harmless fun, right? No, it’s ageist, whatever Bluey says.

There are challenges ahead.

The challenges of aging are many. They include an increased burden from chronic diseases and frailty, a decline in cognitive and physical abilities, as well as changes in hearing and vision.

The program encouraged young people like Ayden and older people like Maz to become more active. EndemolShine Australia, CC BY-ND

Read more: Steep physical decline with age is not inevitable – here’s how strength training can change the trajectory.

Changes in occupational and social roles often also occur as we get older, for instance, as older people retire from paid work or care for a sick partner. Conversely, older people may lose their role as caregivers after grandchildren grow up or after the loss of a loved one.

All of these changes in aging can lead to loneliness. Loneliness is harmful to your health. Loneliness can increase the risk of depression, dementia, and cardiovascular disease. It may even shorten your life expectancy. Reducing loneliness among older adults is a difficult task.

Read more: ‘I tell everyone I love being on my own, but I hate it’: what older Australians want you to know about loneliness

How I got involved

When I was offered the opportunity to be involved with Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds (AHP4YO), I jumped at it. The program included an intergenerational experimental preschool. The activities included dress-ups and walks, as well as structured and supported activities.

Intergenerational programs, particularly in Australia, were not mainstream at the time.

Annelise was lonely when the series began, but she formed a relationship with Amelie. EndemolShine Australia, CC BY-ND

I was invited to join a TV show with a panel consisting of a physiotherapist, psychologist and other experts.

At the beginning of the experiment, we screened older adults for depression and looked at signs of frailty such as speed of walking, strength of muscles, and activity levels. Then we assessed them after six weeks.

Although we were cautiously optimistic, the overall improvements have been better than expected, and some individual transformations are extraordinary.

Three of four participants who initially screened positive for depressive disorder had scores within the normal range at the end of the course. One woman in her 80s saw her score improve by eight points on a scale of 15 points. The group also showed impressive improvements in their fitness levels.

Abi was able to help Dale understand how her vision impairment affected her daily life. EndemolShine Australia, CC BY-ND

Since then, this series has expanded to include a variety of populations, from older adults in the community to residents of retirement villages and aged care facilities, as well as preschoolers and teenagers.

Each program was tailored to meet the specific needs of the group. We have sometimes focused on specific issues, such as loneliness or depression.

We have seen benefits in both age groups. This is in line with the growing evidence base that tells us what these programs can do.

The second season of the Old People’s Home for Teenagers is currently airing. They are very articulate when they describe how valuable it is to younger people to spend time with older mentors. They gain confidence, take on new challenges, and develop new meaningful relationships. Many of these connections continue to enhance lives after the cameras have stopped rolling.

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