Real Life

You've seen the TV show, now meet the real Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds

Chaffey Aged Care residents share their days with some special friends.

By Brigid Auchettl
When four-year-old Zoey goes to preschool each day there's only one person she wants to spend time with – her 90-year-old bestie, Norma.
And Zoey's friend feels the same.
"She's such a chatty little girl and I'm always interested in hearing what she has to tell me," a smiling Norma tells Woman's Day.
"She's made me a lovely little bracelet that I wear every day."
Norma lives in Chaffey Aged Care, in Merbein, near Mildura in Victoria, which since January has also been home to the Generations Early Learning Centre.
Norma and Zoey have gained hundreds of friends since the two facilities rolled out an intergenerational care program.
"The children are exuberant for life. You get caught up in their enthusiasm," says Norma. "The interaction is so special and important."
The program means 72 preschoolers and aged care residents play music, create art, cook, dance, and chat together four days a week.
But for Norma, who has decorated her room with colourful artworks she and Zoey have created together, it's often not enough time with her best friend.
The initiative, which aims to improve the wellbeing of aged care residents and offer new experiences to children, has been a hit.
The program has proved a success for young and old! (supplied)
Since enrolling her daughter, Haley Sheriff, 36, couldn't be happier that Zoey is stepping out of her comfort zone and her confidence has skyrocketed.
"She was always a pretty shy kid," says Haley.
"Her communication skills have increased since joining the program. She's made some beautiful relationships with adults, older people and people with differences."
The facility was inspired by the success of a multi-generational music program a few years ago, where parents and their preschoolers made music with elderly residents.
This current initiative has been extended so the older residents have set days they spend with the children. Haley loves the new set up.
Haley and daughter Zoe love the program (supplied)
"I think as parents everybody wants to give their child the best start in life and expose them to as many different experiences as possible," she says."It doesn't matter what end of the spectrum of life you are – just because you're 85 doesn't mean you can't help a four-year-old learn to read. It eliminates the generation divide and it's really lovely."
Norma has decorated her room with paintings from Zoey (supplied)
Just a few months in, the centre's CEO, Darren Midgley, is convinced this intergenerational model of care is a huge success – and the way of the future.
"Feedback from children and parents has been amazing," says Darren, who loves seeing young and old in such high spirits.
Blown away by the amazing impact the children have made on the residents, management has plans to continue the program for years to come.
"The children seem to be able to get their older friends to participate in activities or exercises that the care recipients don't believe they are capable of… it's magic!"
The children bring Faye happiness (supplied)
Having the children visit has been amazing for 96-year-old resident Fae, who admits she doesn't often get visitors of her own.
"I don't see many people at all," explains Fae, who struggles with mobility.
"I spend a lot of time in my room. Having the children visit is something to look forward to."
Bob can't wait to greet the children each day (supplied)
While heading out on his morning walk around the grounds, Bob, 87, often stops while the children greet him.
"As soon as they spot me they shout 'Bob' and run to the fence, all talking at once," he says.
"There's an aura of happiness about when the children come by. It's given everybody a sense of purpose."

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