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The Life-Affirming Effects of Spending Time With Children

Nannies all know the spirit-lifting, positive effects that little people can have on a person’s mood and sense of purpose and wellbeing, but now it’s scientifically proven. If you managed to watch Channel 4’s gorgeous documentary ‘Old People’s Home for Four Year Olds’ back in August, you will have seen pre-schoolers swap their usual nursery for a nursing home. The children joined a group of pensioners at St Monica’s care home in Bristol for six weeks, as part of a social experiment.

Before filming began, the OAPs had been assessed for markers of their physical and mental health and were all found to be suffering from low moods - many reporting a perceived loss of purpose - and various mobility problems. Half of the residents had no immediate family, including children and grandchildren, and admitted to feeling lonely. Six weeks later… well, you can guess the rest if you didn’t see the programme.

The results were staggering: the elderly residents’ mood, mobility and memory were all vastly improved at the end of the experiment. The trust in charge of St Monica’s has since committed to adding a full-time nursery to one of its residential care homes and playgrounds at a number of its other sites around the UK as a result of the findings.

It’s thought that 60 per cent of nursing home residents in the UK never receive visitors, and as many as 75 per cent of older people in the UK feel lonely. Unsurprisingly, increased social interaction is now linked to a reduced risk of disease in elderly people.

The concept isn’t new although it’s new to the UK. The concept of ‘intergenerational care’ began in 1976 when a nursery school and a care home joined forces in Tokyo. Schemes have been rolled out across Europe, Australia and the US in the following decades, and the Singapore government has committed £1.7bn to building ten new intergenerational housing developments in the country in a wider scheme to improve the quality of life for its ageing population. The first nursery in the UK to share the same site as a care home - where children and residents will meet daily for activities together - opened this month in London. The Apples and Honey Nightingale nursery, situated in a refurbished maintenance block within the care home site in Clapham, has 30 places for two- to four-year-olds. The launch is off to a great start by all accounts, and we look forward to hearing more from this very special day nursery.

So there we have it: surely there is no better way to stay young, happy and healthy than to work with children every day. The benefits to children are also significant, from language acquisition to confidence building. Playing together with older male residents has been reported to benefit children too; the majority of carers tend to be female yet the type of play typically favoured by men is thought to especially promote independence.

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