Preschoolers Brighten the Lives of the Elderly
Imagine a subdued elderly man with an artificial leg, who relies on a walking stick to help him get around. Imagine this man suddenly full of life, walking unaided across the room. Another resident at the facility where they live asks him, “You don’t need your stick?” He replies, “No, no, no, no.”
You can watch this transformation happen in video clips from a recent British television program. The reason behind the sudden change? A group of preschool children visited the senior care facility where Hamish lives, and filled the place with life and fresh energy. This is the man who, at the beginning of the episode, says, “This I think is going to be a total disaster. I can’t quite see what effect the children are going to have on the adults. I can’t really see what difference it’s going to make for us.” By the end of the episode he affirms, “This was truly a morning of sheer delight.”
The program “Old People’s Home for 4-Year-Olds” aired in summer 2017 on British public service broadcaster Channel 4. The show documents an experiment in which a preschool group was integrated into St. Monica Trust Care Home for six weeks, with stunning results. The elderly residents experienced incredible improvements in mental and physical condition over the course of the program.
While this was just a temporary experiment, there is a similar permanent operation in Seattle. At an innovative residential care facility called Providence Mount St. Vincent, known as “the Mount,” a preschool is part of the campus. Five days a week, the facility’s Intergenerational Learning Center offers opportunities for kids and elderly residents to play and interact through music, dance, art, lunch, and storytelling, for example. A documentary called “Present Perfect” by filmmaker Evan Briggs was filmed during the 2012-2013 school year and tells the story of this extraordinary program.
In the arc of life, the very young and the very old, at opposite ends of the journey, have much to share and learn from each other—even though the assumption may often be that the children are the ones who benefitting from the wisdom of an older generation. And this is certainly also true. In a previous blog post, we explored the connection between young children and grandparents in relation to the “grandmother hypothesis,” which holds that women evolved to become unable to have children later in life in order to be available to help raise their grandchildren. In this view, the focus is on the support that the older generation can provide to younger generations. However, these documentaries are a powerful reminder that kids can bring a renewed sense of life, energy, joy and purpose to those who need it most.
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More about “Old People’s Home for 4-Year-Olds”: