I was completely blown away by the results of Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds – a 10-week experiment I worked on for Channel 4 about the benefits of intergenerational mixing. Therefore it’s great news that Nightingale House, the first nursing home in the UK to share its site with a nursery, will prescribe depressed residents play sessions with children.
I am an expert in biogerontology, which is the science of how ageing works. I used my expertise to make sure that the experiments in the programme were scientifically rigorous, working with a diverse group of older adults, some fitter than others, and all of different ages. However – whatever the health or age of participants, playing with the four-year-olds had benefits for mental and physical health.
I was stunned by the improvements to 102-year-old Sylvia’s health. At the start of the experiment she was doing well for her age, but was frail and eating very little.
After 10 weeks she was eating like a horse, and had improved on almost every measure that we tested. Her physical fitness had improved, she was stronger and she was sharper in her thinking, just from spending time with children.
Even more amazing was the difference to the health of Ken, 87. You might think that it’s impossible to be lonely in a retirement home surrounded by others. However, it’s easy to stay inside your own flat all day if you don’t have a psychological draw to get out. That is what had happened to Ken.