When Teenage Meets Old Age – Review

Generally, I tend not to watch anything that might be deemed to be ‘work-related’ but last night I sat down to watch ‘When Teenage Meets Old Age’ on BBC2 (available  on the iPlayer).

It’s only the first of a three-part series and the idea was pretty much evident from the title.

The programme focussed on four young people who went to work in a retirement village (which seems to be a mix between sheltered housing with a sheltered/nursing home on site) and tried to challenge intergenerational perceptions.

I am not sure if the generational divide is larger now than it ever has been. I have my doubts but I do think that intergenerational work can be neglected just as, in their different ways, younger people and older people are marginalised by a society that focuses on the ‘majority’.

I also watched through the eyes of my own recollections and attitudes to age when I was younger. By the time I was 18, all my grandparents had died. When I was 20, I first worked in residential care with older adults.

I remember, as the programme highlighted, my utter embarrassment at having to do personal care for an adult – having to help someone who was naked in the shower to wash and confronting the look of an older body.

The programme related some of this discomfort. It was clear that the residents had given consent to the programme being made but I did feel a little uncomfortable at the nature of some of the filming. It didn’t seem prurient though. I think it was important that the nature of care work was presented as it is and the reality of embarrassment on both sides is definitely a reality.

One of the most important things, as I suppose would be self-evident in a programme like this, was that there was a feeling of difference between the older adults and younger adults. Although the focus of the programme initially seemed to be about how the younger adults coped and managed, presenting the older adults as the ‘guinea pigs’, as the programme went on there was more of an effort to get to know the individuals masked behind the older skin. Who they were and who they had been. They had equally fixed perceptions of ‘young people’ and the attitudes on both sides became more open and understanding as they got to know each other.

There were some really touching moments as some of the attitudes were being worn down. I had a theory that working with older adults is not valued because age isn’t valued in our society. This was an interesting attempt to broaden out understanding  of age –  both younger and older people – to a wider level. Yes, it can be frightening to see what age does to the mind and body but it isn’t something we can run away from however much we might like to. The young people they chose were all enthusiastic and wanting to do well. That helped, of course. I want to know how they get on because I want them to succeed.

Last week, I visited a care home and I saw a picture board of all the residents. It had not only their names but their previous professions and some words about favourite things/experiences.  The reason it was there, the manager told me, was so the staff saw the residents as individuals and people who had lives, aspirations and hopes.

The programme seemed to take us through this to learn about the people who live and need residential care. We understand the people that they were as well as the people that they are. I think that is one of the most important things to remember in care work and any work actually – a respect of the individual, their experiences and their hopes. One of the reasons I rail against some of the forms and documents we need for the individual budgets is that I feel they have not been designed for older people – because the agenda was and is being driven from the experiences of adults of working age.

Some of the challenges when working in residential care can be about personal relationships and reactions to people. Sometimes you just get on better on a personality level with some people than others. It can be hard to accept that at first when you have to provide an equal service and it’s the same in my current job. I can’t deny that I like some of the service users I work with more than others. The realisation that you can’t differentiate levels of care between people you like and dislike is one of the most important lessons to be learnt. One of the younger women told the camera that she just didn’t like one of the older women that much – because she felt that the older woman didn’t like her. A fair point actually. I think it did raise the issue of personal attitudes and preferences. We don’t cease to be swayed by personal responses to people but the aim is to work through them and ensure they don’t affect professional practice.

Equally, there has to be the counter-understanding that some care staff will be liked more than others. When things ‘match up’ the ideal outcome is reached  but would you like someone who you don’t get on with to be washing you? For many older and disabled people, that is a reality and there is little choice in residential care when staff are rota’d.

You could claim that in the ‘new world’ of personalisation there is more choice but that choice tends to be open to those who are able to choose. It certainly isn’t as open in residential care and hospital settings.

The next parts of the programme will be looking at some of the older adults being taken out of the village by the younger adults to enjoy different activities.

I realise that I’m not the target audience for the makers of programmes like these. I have worked with older adults for a while. I do think anything that presents older adults and moreover disabled and dependent older adults as individuals with histories, likes and dislikes is a positive.

I’ll watch the next episodes to see how the people in the programme get on because I want to know.

For me, working in a residential home at 20 provided the route into a profession that I would never have imagined for myself at that age.

One of the sadnesses that I felt when I watched though was about the lack of intergenerational work that takes place now – and the dichotomous split that seems to be absolute between childrens’ services and adults services in social work. It’s as if adulthood is not seen in the context of childhood and vice versa except where there are other disabilities when ‘transitions’ teams exist.

Unfortunately, now, among the cuts and ravages of the Comprehensive Spending Review, is not the time to be proposing new projects when everything around us is being cut but it would be good to think in the future that the gap between generations could be closed with a bit more effort and understanding from both sides and a bit of encouragement from those of us in the middle.

9 thoughts on “When Teenage Meets Old Age – Review

  1. Pingback: When Old Age Meets Teenage – Review - Fighting Monsters - Member blogs - Social Work Blog - Carespace from Community Care

  2. Great post, you’ve got me interested and I’ll check the programme out at the weekend.

    I’m in an irritatingly positive mood today so just wondered whether the cuts to traditional services might actually lead to some new developments in this area – not in a formalised, intergenerational project type way but more in an ad-hoc, we’re all in this together kind of way?

    In terms of intergenerational working and evidence/policy/ideas I’ve always been impressed by work of Beth Johnson Foundation’s Centre for IG work http://www.bjf.org.uk

    Thanks for the post, G

    • I will check out the link and I hope it will lead to great work in this area. I’m a little sceptical and local intergenerational projects have literally been cut over the last couple of weeks.. but I do think that creative planning is the way forward.

  3. Pingback: When Old Age Meets Teenage – Review | Fighting Monsters | Activities for older people

  4. I too worry about these programmes, especially when you visit the Job centre and the only jobs being advertised is Care Work. For many of us who want to work in the Care Sector. Residential Care is the best way to gain the first steps into this job and develop good skills, and understanding of working with individuals and identifying their needs.

    I worry because if this is not what you want to do as a career as a young adult should you be forced to do it, because it is the only job being advertised. And a programme you have seen has shown that it is not that bad after all.

    I did not watch this programme, but may give it a try and a very interesting thought proving read

  5. Really great piece and I’ll definitely try and catch the programme. I love visiting those care homes where they take a real interest in the past lives of the older people. Most of them have led fascinating lives and are thrilled to get a chance to tell someone all about it! I’ve done a bit of work at my children’s school recently getting them to interract with the residents of a sheltered housing scheme, beneficial for both ends of the generation gap!

  6. Pingback: When Teenage Meets Old Age « Jewish Care Pearls

  7. Hi,

    Really enjoyed your take on the programme & it’s v. interesting to hear the perspective of someone who has worked on the ‘front line’ so to speak. I agree that the programme was broadly good, as it really did show the residents as individuals with rich and varied life experiences. Many of the young people took to care a lot better than might have been expected too.

    We’ve linked to your article on our blog, as your post adds a layer of insight that the reviewers at the Guardian & The Metro couldn’t match. You can see our blog post here if you’re interested! http://tinyurl.com/6fzmge9

  8. This review is spot on. I too have worked in a care home and I found the programme realistic and very touching. It can be too easy to forget that older people have a fascinating history and I know that I have herad some amazing life stories. Am really looking forward to the next programme

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