Can intergenerational programs reduce frailty and depression in older people?

WIN-WIN: The pilot study is looking into the effects socialising with preschoolers can have on older isolated Australians.
WIN-WIN: The pilot study is looking into the effects socialising with preschoolers can have on older isolated Australians.

FROM intergenerational reality TV experiments to aged care initiatives, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that getting the elderly to hang out with preschoolers has a positive effect on young and old.

Now, in an Australian first, scientists in NSW are running a pilot trial to see if intergenerational activity can actually reduce frailty and improve the mental health in older participants.

Taking its cue from the award-winning ABC series, Old People's Home for 4 Year Oldswhich is currently running for a second season,the Intergenerational Integration Initiative will see older adults living in the community and young children engage in activities together.

Led by Associate Professor Ruth Peters, a senior research scientist at Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRA) and Conjoint Associate Professor at UNSW, the trial will run for 10 weeks at St Nics' Christian Preschool in Coogee.

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The Anglicare-run pre-school is attached to the St Nics' Anglican Church where the second series of the ABC documentary was filmed. The trail aims to take a version of the show into the community.

It will include psychologists and geriatricians from UNSW, University of Sydney and Griffith University.

"Early research indicates these programs could lead to better physical health and cognition among adults over the age of 65, and better interpersonal skills among children under the age of five," said Associate Professor Peters.

"Children and older adults can be the perfect companions and build lovely partnerships where they both really care for each other."

To assess the feasibility of the program within the community, Associate Professor Peters and her team surveyed 258 parents, teachers and older adults themselves to see whether they would support such a program.

"More than 92 per cent of respondents indicated that the program has the potential to increase understanding and friendships across generations, provide unique learning opportunities and improve communication skills in children, while also reducing loneliness and isolation in older adults," Associate Professor Peters said.

"Bringing together older and younger Australians in a day-to-day setting could have be a major benefit across Australia, particularly with almost half of those aged 75-84 living alone with likely exacerbated levels of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic."

If this first pilot trial is successful, a larger follow-on trial will test whether the Intergenerational Integration Initiative could be rolled out to wider communities and eventually throughout New South Wales, and around the country.

Results from the pilot trial are likely to be available in July 2021.

This story Real life Old People's Home for Four Year Olds gets underway first appeared on The Senior.