This was a short series that restaged research conducted in the 1980s. Professor Ellen Langer has many articles and books exploring the theory of turning back time and comments at the beginning of the programme that " our minds accept the labels of ageing. Freeing ourselves from that state of mind can turn back the clock". This series took back 6 celebrities in their 70s and 80s to 1975 for one week, a time when they considered themselves in their prime. Their week was entirely 1975 - decor, tv, food etc. and were offered constant physical and mental activity and socialisation.
The suggestion being that there is a cultural expectation of "elderly" and "old" that is a state of mind rather than a reality (in some cases). Using words such as "forgetful" and "wise" can create a mindset that impacts on how the individual may thinks and see themselves and thus impact on behaviour and performance (episode 4 goes into this in detail). One celebrity began the programme by saying that he used to have dogs - but "I'm now too old to look after them",(he is now thinking of getting another dog!) another believed that having a number of strokes in the past 18 months prevented her from her beloved hobby of painting. Through the week the celebrities were confronted with tasks that they were expected to engage with - some of these were returning to previously meaningful occupations including performing at the London Palladium (a dancer) and returning to a busy newspaper office (editor). By the end of the week, all had made physical and cognitive function improvement. Here are some of the stories:
Dickie: was convinced at the beginning that he had a poor memory. Since experiencing a stroke he lost confidence and was scared of going out "since retirement my world has shrunk, now I feel alive again". His memory at the end rated as higher than average. " I feel a different man" and a friend commented "he'd lost an interesting life - that's waht's been ressurected"
Derek: was inclined to say "I can't do it" to anything that he was asked to do believing "I'm 80 and I don't have to do anything anymore". What was demonstrated that he was often saying "I can't do it" as he was actually performing the said task! His experience of the house was that talking to 5 people at a time was something he had not done for years "it reminded me of when I was editor and a lovely feeling to go back - something you don't think about very often" and "start thinking in a more lively vigorous way to recapture how you were years ago".
Liz: was very good at getting others to do things for her in the beginning, she arrived in a wheelchair after having a number of strokes over the last 18 months. By the end of the week she was mostly walking with one stick - and at times no stick- and her daughter commented how strange but good it felt to be walking beside her mother again. Liz has also taken up painting again "try to find something that is not just there to pass the time, but is actually constructive and has something to do with your former life. Find something to do which satisfies you, find something to live for each day, to go out for and to dress up for - it's the answer" (Spoken like an OT!!!)
Sylvia: was in constant pain from her back at the beginning, but aby the end was running, touching her toes and looked so much younger.
So, how was this achieved?
Well, to use our professional language they were possibly experiencing the impact of occupational alienation and occupational deprivation which were negated by:
- engaging in meaningful activity
- introducing peer support and competition (friendly)
- providing structure
- experiencing worth and purpose
One might question whether these things would be enough without the 1975 environment. In fact Sylvia questioned the correlation between the impact on well being and the trip back in time. Prof Langer explained that this was based on the Placebo effect, it was a way of getting people to be where they felt vital and not being stopped by a mindset - which today's environment encourages. It reminds them that thay had been vital and they gave it up! "Now I feel if I want a cup of tea...I can go and get it"
Of course one might suggest that these were celebrities - able to perform!