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Reality show star

Melrose Stewart worked on the successful C4 series, Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds and believes the enthusiastic reaction to it must be harnessed.

I came across your profile on the BBC Academy and felt compelled to get in touch, the email said, setting in motion a train of events that culminated in my participation in the television show, Old People’s Home for 4 year Olds. 
 
CPL, the production company that made the series for Channel 4, was looking for three experts – a gerontologist, a geriatrician and a physiotherapist – to contribute. The idea was to set up and follow an intergenerational programme at a residential care home, with the older residents and pre-school children, and scientifically study and monitor improvements in the adults over six weeks. 
 
It appealed to me because it related to my longstanding interest in health promotion and, as a physiotherapist and educator, the exploratory nature of the study held significant relevance to practice. 
 
However, permission to take on the role in the programme rested with my employer, the University of Birmingham, and the head of school. University policies, procedures and protocols had to be addressed and workload carefully reviewed. 
 
My role included advising the producers on the selection of appropriate tests and tools to demonstrate behaviour change in the residents. Also, applying them, collecting and analysing the data, and offering comment and discussion about the programme generally. 
 
I spent time talking to the residents, increasing their familiarity with the tests and explaining what was required of them. I had to keep reminding them that I was not there to treat them, as many assumed!
 
At the end of the experimental period, the changes in the residents were far beyond expectations. Most had been living with depression and a sense of hopelessness, as indicated in assessments by the geriatrician. 
 
By the end of six weeks, this was replaced by engaged, active and happy individuals looking forward to futures full of hope. As a direct result, St Monica Trust, owners of the residential home, has decided to build a nursery in one of its homes. 
 
I have been amazed by the wave of enthusiasm and goodwill of people who wish to effect change in how older adults engage with their community and to develop similar projects.
 
My wish is that all this enthusiasm is translated into practical developments before the impetus is lost. It is imperative that, as a profession, we use it to gain the attention of policymakers, stakeholders and the relevant institutions. 
 
Old People’s Home for 4 year Olds could be a catalyst for change in how communities view intergenerational activities and how society re-engages local communities with older people in residential homes who feel isolated.
 
  • Melrose Stewart is a lecturer at Birmingham University
 

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