Researcher: ‘You can’t quantify joy’

UFV documentary, They're Not Scary, challenges research findings of the effects of relations between young and old.

A small group of seven-year-old girls from Mission spent six months dancing with seniors at the Pleasant View Care Home in Mission as part of a research project

The research showed there were no cognitive or physical benefits, but the footage proved otherwise.

The documentary, They’re Not Scary, shows the results of a six-month project studying the effects of relations between the young and old.

They’re Not Scary is being screened next Thursday, Feb. 20, at the University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) Chilliwack campus.

The research says there were no measurable health benefits to the weekly interactions, but the 400 hours of footage tells a different story.

“The research may have ultimately said that there was no cognitive and no physiological benefit for the elders that participated, but I have the footage of them laughing, and smiling, and crying – and you can’t quantify joy,” said researcher Darren Blakeborough, who filmed and edited the documentary with the help of five students from the media and communications department.

Two years ago, UFV’s Centre for Education and Research on Aging embarked on the research project, exploring the benefits for both children and care-home residents involved in an inter-generational dance program.

For six months, a group of seven-year-old girls went into a care home weekly to dance and socialize with the residents.

At the start, the girls knowledge of old people was limited and mostly negative.

“They were pretty sure they were going to go in there and teach these people how to dance, and that they would have to be very slow and careful with them,” said Blakeborough.

“A lot of them, in their initial interviews, were scared of [seniors].”

Which, given today’s culture, wasn’t surprising for Blakeborough.

“Unfortunately, we equate aging with very negative things,” he said.

“Aging is decline. Aging is losing our hair colour and going grey. Aging is losing the elastin in our skin and getting wrinkles. It’s losing our memory, our eyesight, our hearing.”

In media, seniors amount to three per cent of the TV population.

“So we don’t see them often, and when we do, it’s in a very negative, stereotyped way,” said Blakeborough. “It’s understandable why we grow up thinking these negative things.”

Blakeborough hopes the documentary will help change those views.

“We noticed very quickly when we started filming that there was more to this than just the original research,” he said.

“It was incredible to see the journey that the girls went through… amazing the relationships these girls made with the residents.”

The moments captured, Blakeborough said, are goosebump worthy.

A girl at the end of the second session running up and giving a warm hug to one of the seniors. Another girl searching out her “older” friend who neglected to come to class one day because he wasn’t feeling well; five minutes later walking down the hall hand-in-hand with her pal.

(The senior had been re-diagnosed with stomach cancer, and shortly after succumbed to the disease.)

And another girl, at the end of the third session, when asked what she’d learned so far about the aging population, confidently stared straight into the camera and said:

“They’re not scary.”

For Blakeborough, it was the most “personally gratifying” project he’s worked on.

“It was just so meaningful, just on every level,” he said, choking back tears.

“Without you being there, or without you seeing the documentary, it’s hard to explain how emotional that process was – to see these girls, who went in there scared and unsure, just open up.

“This just felt so significant, so meaningful, so real,” he said. “You can get bogged down in research that’s theoretical and number crunching, but this felt like you could touch it and feel it, and I loved that. I loved seeing the real-world effects of seven-year-old girls dancing with infirmed elders, and the joy it put on their faces.

“It took some really cool people to pull this off… and I was just glad that they let me be a part of it.”

The Centre for Education and Research on Aging intends to produce DVDs of the documentary and use it as a tool to encourage similar projects in other communities.

“One of the ways I think we can dispel some of these negative myths about aging is by having significant inter-generational contact,” said Blakeborough.

The 55-minute documentary, They’re Not Scary, will be screened on Thursday, Feb. 20 at 6 p.m. in the Blackbox Theatre at the UFV Chilliwack campus. A reception will follow.

The public is welcomed.

For more information, contact Shelley Canning at

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