Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this blog are entirely our own and not necessarily those of our employer or any other occupational therapist.

Friday, 24 September 2010

The Young Ones.................

I've been trying to find the time to share with you my enthusiasm for a recent BBC series The Young Ones (BBC iplayer - 4 episodes I think available to view until 12th Oct 2010 -no, not the 80's comedy of "right on" students - although I was an avid fan!).
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!


Sarah Stewart said...

This is fascinating, Angela...and bears out what I have always thought...that getting old is all in the mind.

green.sandra76 said...

I found this programme extremely interesting. I watched The science of the young ones and it was great to see how quickly the individuals were able to partake in activities of which they thought they had lost the ability to do a long time ago. The social and physical environments of the house helped in gaining their 'youth' again. Really enjoyed it!

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Kate said...

This is very interesting! I am an occupational therapy student and I really enjoyed reading about this series. It is amazing just how much of a difference the environment and engaging in meaningful activities can affect an individual. I don't think the change in these individuals was just because they were celebrities. It may have had some effect, but we are taught in school that it is important to participate in meaningful activities. I feel that by changing the environment to feel more like a time when these individuals were younger and doing the things they enjoyed made them feel more able to and willing to participate. Even Derek who said he couldn't do something was able to do it. I am most amazed by the woman who was in a wheelchair but by the end of the week, she was walking. I wish I had known about this series sooner because I would have really liked to have seen it.

I am unsure of the population I would like to work with when I get out into the profession but this information is definitely something I will remember. This study seems to prove true the saying, "you are only as old as you feel".

Anonymous said...

Although I have not had the opportunity to watch this series, it sounds quite fascinating! It really made me think of both my parents and grandparents. I have always felt that they have always acted much younger than one would expect for their chronological ages. This just confirms that age is nothing but a number and many of your abilities come from how you feel on the inside. Of course the way someone may feel is influenced by many surrounding factors.

I just recently completed my level II fieldwork and had one individual who was in his 50's who was unwilling to cooperate with even the simplest of tasks. He proclaimed that he was too old to take part in any activity and was happy just laying in his reclining chair. This individual had recently lost his wife and job. When looking at his medical charts you could see that his health decline started very shortly after those two life changing events.
I finally was able to get through to my client by talking to him about his dogs. We then were able to use his love for his dogs as a way to get him working on functional mobility. Being able to go home and walk/play with his dogs became his motivation to participating in both OT and PT.

This just confirms that best practice is client-centered and occupation based.