Old people's home for very young ones
QUALITY time spent in the company of some lively four-year-olds has opened up a whole new world for octogenarian and retirement village resident Maureen.
Maureen is one of 11 residents, aged between 78 and 95, who participated in a social experiment conducted and filmed by ABC studios' Old People's Home for 4 Year Olds.
In the experiment, residents were paired with preschoolers from the area, and over eight weeks they met in a specially prepared preschool space for four full days each week.
The experiment sought to determine whether the inter-generational contact could improve the health and well-being of the older people, thus leading to happier and healthier lives.
Eighty-two-year-old Maureen sees great potential in the relationships formed.
"The development in the people and the children in that short time was absolutely fantastic," she said.
"Some of them were very reticent in the beginning, but they gradually warmed to it."
She felt an immediate connection when she met four-year-old Michaela.
"She was the most delightful thing you would ever meet," Maureen said. "She would rush across the room to me."
Maureen has two grandchildren who live close by but because of busy lives she doesn't see as much of them as she would like. At the start of the experiment the usually upbeat Maureen was stressed trying to cope with significant health issues confronting both her and her husband.
"This was the answer to my prayers," she said.
Even though her physical health problems continued during the filming, she said: "It psychologically lifted me out of myself."
Critically for Maureen, it was knowing she was wanted and loved during her time together with Michaela.
While Maureen isn't sure how much she taught Michaela, she certainly knows she gained significantly from their contact.
"She was very patient with me as I couldn't physically do a lot," she said. "I felt the love was there and we clicked. Anything I needed, she was there for me.
"I must have been a security for her. She's from a one-parent family who has a mother who is fantastic."
The participants shared a structured timetable that encouraged physical activity, social interaction, learning and happiness.
Maureen and Michaela walked hand-in-hand, did relay races, made slime and cooked.
"We had a great time," Maureen said.
Michaela has now effectively become part of Maureen's family, as has her mother Debbie. The new unlikely friends see each other every month, sometimes with Michaela's grandmother joining in, and Debbie regularly shares family photos with Maureen.
"I've got a new family," Maureen said. "It's made quite a bit of difference to my life.
She said she no longer felt she was living locked up in the retirement village.
Maureen has also become friends with one of the other women who participated in the experiment, who has taken to lobbying village management for an ongoing program.
"There's a heck of a lot of kids that don't have grandparents in Australia, or they are living somewhere else, and they don't have that association," Maureen said.
"I could just see the magic that came out of this."
Screening from August 27, at 8.30pm on ABC. If you miss the four-part series, it can be viewed via ABC iView.