Dr Zoe Wyrko is a Consultant physician at University Hospital Birmingham and is the Director of Workforce for the BGS. In this blog she discusses the recent Channel 4 programme in which she appeared, Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds. She tweets @geri_baby
I’ve always had a soft spot for care homes. As a child I would occasionally go into work with my Mum and meet some of the old ladies she talked about. When I was older I started work in the same nursing home as a kitchen girl on Saturdays, and then later progressed to health care assistant. I remain proud of my training record from that time, showing I am competent to deliver personal care, clean dentures and cut nails.
This is why I was excited when an approach came from CPL productions, who were looking for geriatricians to be involved with a television programme they wanted to make about introducing children to a care home environment. I think we’ve all seen the effect on older adults when a child or a baby comes onto a hospital ward. Those who have been disinterested or quiet often perk up and become engaged, conversations start, reminiscence happens and everyone is just happier for a little while.
An initial telephone conversation led to a couple of filmed interviews, and then Channel 4 deciding ‘whether they liked the look of me’! Planning then started in earnest, deciding along with the production team which tests we could use easily that would be both interesting to watch and simple to understand. The programme was also very firmly an experiment, and not research, which meant we needed to be mindful of not raising potentially ethically challenging situations with the information we were collecting.
I loved working with the older people taking part in the programme. I found it humbling (and a real treat) to be the guest in their environment, having time to chat and find out more about them, and what had happened during their lives for them to now be living at St Monica Trust. I was fascinated by David (the retired geologist) when he started to talk about the places he had been and the exploring he had done, there is even a tributary of a Norwegian river named after him. Zena and I spent a lot of time talking about her sons and grandchildren back in Holland, and the travelling she used to do with her husband. Linda, always beautifully coordinated, spoke with me about favourite clothes designers. Although they all knew I was on the series because of my profession, not being ‘their’ doctor allowed a different type of relationship to develop which I am grateful for.
The success of the experiment was a genuine surprise. I knew that the older volunteers would feel better, and possibly be a bit more active. I wasn’t expecting the changes we saw in depression, grip strength and speed of movement. I also carried out the Edmonton frailty scale on the participants which didn’t make it in to the final cut (for time and lay understanding, rather than political reasons) and we saw frailty scores improve in a number of participants. Clock drawing tests were more fluent, and continence improved for one person. The sports day was amazing, seeing Linda who was almost too scared to move at the start running with her frame brought a tear to my eye. It wasn’t a stunt for the camera, the only people encouraging her were the participants but most importantly her new best friend Amiya.
The huge question now is ‘what next’? The production company had hoped the social experiment would inspire individuals and communities – and it has. I am struggling to keep up with my twitter timeline currently, and there are so many people I need to reply to (apologies if you are one of them). We need to do this, intergenerationality has to become normal. Care homes and retirement communities are good for the people who need their services and housing needs, but we mustn’t allow the walls of a building to become mental as well as physical barriers. Will this help us with genuine integration? So many organisations will need to work together for success, but it is not impossible.
Watch this space …. I’ll be in touch.
Really pushing for some local buy in!! Let’s see!!
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I would love to see this made part of the national curriculum, clearly the elderly folk gained so much from this interaction, both physically and mentally, and likewise young children learn about patience, empathy and indeed history from our elders. Absolutely adored this programme, if I still worked in my old nursing home I would be making serious enquires about this now!
So interesting to watch this programme and reflect how in the latec1980s as a trainee I encouraged my daughter’s school to engage with the local department of geriatric medicine. Patients and children enjoyed interacting with each other and learnt from each other. The ward was always buzzing after the children had been. Interestingly the then BGS president castigated me for introducing the children to frailty, saying this would give them a negative stereotype of old age. I firmly disagreed but sadly never repeated the experiment when we moved area. The likely benefits of such intergenerational intraction is intuitive and should encourage BGS members to counsel planners against building geriatric ghettos; founded in the misconception that older people don’t like all the noise created by the young.
Your backgrounds shows today in you delivery of medicine
Always thrilled to work alongside you
This is such a great scheme and with such good results hopefully something that can become a social movement. And just the most lovely of experiments. Many congrats. Your time on Twitter wont be wasted!
The programme was amazing but I was left wanting to learn about the benefits to the children following the ‘experiment’
That’s why United for All Ages has been encouraging integration of young and old through shared sites so that we can evaluate the benefits to both generations.
I think Channel 4 and the production company missed a trick!
I have been so inspired by this amazing work and am very eager to start something similar in the village where I live. We have three care homes, a majority older adult community, and a thriving primary school plus two pre-schools. As a qualified Montessori teacher and a church warden I long to use my skills in this new direction. Please advise me where I can go to get help and advice to set something going. I don’t doubt there is endless red tape to plough through!…. but I am determined!
Hi Caroline, We are second year level 4 counselling students who are about to embark on a research project on the feasibility of having four year olds in old people’s homes. This was inspired by the programme ‘Old people’s homes for four year olds’ which clearly showed the benefits for the elderly and also some for the children. As you are interested in starting something similar I was wondering what obstacles you have come across and if you are finding your project feasible as you mentioned you were anticipating a lot of red tape
Thank you in anticipation of your reply,
Angelina, Claire and Vicky
Absolutely love what you do, what you’ve done, and what you have brought to the public! We’re based in Birmingham as well, and we have been trying to set something like this up for the past three years, but then we had three surprise little visitors to our lives and have since become a family, who thoroughly enjoy taking the kids to see their great grandparents, so we can totally relate! Now that ‘tiny’ is almost 2 years old, we are looking to get back on this project, and hopefully in good time for the great grandparents, as the years are getting on! We would love you input and advice, and if you could do anything to assist! Seeing as we’re in the same city, hopefully we could meet up to discuss! Looking forward to hearing more on your works/projects and thoughts!
Hi I work oin a brilliant Care Home and used to havemy own business running music sessions and drama for 0-5 years old. Please can you let me know how we would use your programme in a positive way and if you are thinkingof training courses etc. We have an OT where we work, would it be possible just in inlcude a Nursery in our activity sessions and the OT can do all the relevant checks?? Programme was brilliant, tears rolling down my face x