It is the TV show that has won hearts all over the world.
But the 4-year-old’s nursing home, and then the teen’s nursing home, did more than just spark warm, fuzzy feelings.
The series which tackles loneliness among older Australians has attracted millions of viewers since its debut in 2020.
Its impact is felt everywhere, with the benefits felt by the people you have come to know through the television screen rippling out into the real world.
From the TV screen to the real world
Communities across the country have been inspired by the show, creating their own playgroups and intergenerational programs.
More than 40 centers have sprung up, pairing toddlers with Australians aged 65 and over in structured activities.
Anna Glumac, co-director and owner of The Herd in Mornington, Victoria, was already working with her sister on creating an intergenerational center when the first season aired.
She says it became much easier to convince people of the merit of their idea once they saw the show, especially when it came to securing funding.
“What was unique about our model was that we wanted to bring the daycare and senior care facility together under one roof and make it a living, breathing community,” she says.
“When we do tours, many parents talk about the amazing care home for 4-year-olds.
“Parents want to send their children here because they know the impact on children, but they also want their children to help bring some benefit to adults as well.”
Ms. Glumac says she watches relationships blossom in real time every day.
“Many boyfriends have remarked how the program brings them so much joy and makes life worth living.
“It’s also very regulating and calming for some of our neurodiverse children.
“It seems like real love that goes both ways,” she says.
Their model of care includes activities designed jointly by adults and children, older Australians volunteering for a few hours at a time, and spontaneous interaction.
The federal government has also taken an interest in intergenerational programs, giving Playgroup Australia millions of dollars in the most recent budget to open more centers bringing children and older Australians together.
Inspiring stories help drive research
Professor Emeritus Anneke Fitzgerald has worked in the field of intergenerational practice for over a decade.
She has been delighted to see this field gain public recognition and, with it, awareness of the benefits.
“Everyone instantly knows what we’re talking about,” she says.
“Awareness of intergenerational practice and its benefits to society has certainly grown much more quickly thanks to the ABC series.”
Not only did this raise the profile of his academic work at Griffith University, but Professor Fitzgerald also established the not-for-profit Australian Institute of Intergenerational Practice (AIIP) to bring the ever-growing field of research and practice.
She was amazed that after each season, more and more people began to visit the Institute’s website.
“There were people who thought, ‘Oh, I can do something similar! Where can I go?’
“This has had an impact on thinking about the human rights of older people and not seeing them as a worthless burden on society.”
“To be really dramatic, our work at Griffith and our work at AIIP, strongly supported by the work of the ABC… have the potential to change the social fabric of Australia.”
Millions for large-scale studies
The exhibition also contributed to the creation of a large-scale clinical trial, led by Associate Professor Ruth Peters of the University of New South Wales.
She says the project received three successive grants – the most recent of which was for $3.7 million – which almost never happens in academia.
“It really stems from the show,” says Associate Professor Peters.
“After the first season of 4-year-old Nursing Home, a few of my current colleagues in the community had a preschool and were saying they really wanted to do it.”
She says that while there is a growing body of evidence on intergenerational practice, more research was needed to determine how best to do it to reap the maximum benefits.
Thus was born the four-year trial, conducted in 40 nursery schools in the Sydney region, and which began in July.
Associate Professor Peters explains that once a week, children and adults participate in structured activities, like on television.
Researchers are collecting data on adults’ cognitive function, physical ability, mood, quality of life and sleep, while measuring skills such as empathy, language, collaboration and social engagement in the children.
“We really want to come together now to try to do this based on evidence,” she says.
“I honestly think without the show this would never have happened and maybe we would never have had that first conversation to start investigating.
“We are still looking for adults for the trial, so older people in the Sydney area, please come along!”
Global interest in the “Australian model”
The power of the Old People’s Home series was felt thousands of miles away in South America.
Professor Fitzgerald recounts his shock after receiving a phone call from Uruguay’s ambassador to Australia.
The show had just finished airing in Uruguay and representatives from an aged care and childcare facility asked the ambassador to put them in touch with Australians working in that field.
“They wanted to adopt the ‘Australian model’. I didn’t know the ‘Australian model’ existed,” she laughs.
“We strongly recommended that this work be a topic of research.”
Researchers were so keen to get involved that Griffith University signed a memorandum of understanding with the Catholic University of Uruguay.
“We know there is great interest in intergenerational practice and research in South America, with Uruguay leading the way.”
Professor Fitzgerald’s focus is on creating more educational programs to create a workforce ready for an intergenerational future.
“We absolutely must create a whole new profession, that of intergenerational practice practitioner.
“It’s not an after-school programme, it needs to be part of our thinking about lifelong learning and we need funding to make that happen.”
Season 2 of Old People’s Home for Teenagers premieres on Tuesday October 3 at 8:30pm AEST on ABC TV and I see.