The Benefits of Intergenerational Programming
May 15, 2018
The idea of bringing seniors together with children generally brings a smile to everyone’s face. The concept of blending the joy and excitement of young people with the wisdom and experience of elders just sounds like a good thing.
A recent study of the subject suggests it is indeed a very good thing.
The report, published in 2017 by Generations United, a non-profit organization dedicated to “improving the lives of children, youth and older adults,” highlights how intergenerational programming is enhancing the lives of elders and, in the case of senior living communities, making them better places to live.
According to the report, the many benefits that intergenerational engagements offer seniors include:
- Diminished levels of isolation and feelings of loneliness A regularly expected visit from a young person can make an enormous emotional difference to an elder who may be feeling alone or even neglected.
- Increased connections to community and companionship A single personal connection with a young person can be the portal that widens a senior’s world, involving them in activities, experiences and new relationships that enrich their daily life.
- Increased exposure to current culture and technology Kids today inherently offer elders the opportunity to know more about the latest cultural trends, helping them to make more sense of the current world and feel more closely connected to it. A tech-savvy kid exposing an older person to technology can present the senior with new possibilities for exploring the world virtually, obtaining knowledge and seeking entertainment. This is especially so for an older person with diminished mobility.
- Increased levels of physical activity and wellbeing Children are generally quick and nimble people. Their lively energy invigorates seniors. This increased activity translates to light exercise for an older person, resulting in their better overall physical and emotional health.
- More personal assistance and support When youth are connected with elders, relationships flourish and empathy grows on both sides. For seniors, this means they might reasonably expect a helping hand from a young person when they need support with routine tasks.
- Changed perceptions of young people Many seniors have negative preconceived ideas about kids today. By connecting older people with young people, positive opinions about youth are likely to emerge by way of greater understanding between the generations.
These impressive benefits of intergenerational programming have become more widely recognized in recent years. As a result, programs that connect youth and seniors have sprung up in many communities nationwide.
The activities and experiences these programs entail run a wide spectrum, and can incorporate children of all ages, and seniors with varying degrees of independence.
Programming involving very young children may include regular visits to senior living communities to collaborate on art projects, to sing songs together or to just share a sweet treat with the residents. School-age children might participate in storytelling sessions, meal preparation or even learning a new skill together, like knitting or browsing the Internet.
In recent years, many innovative and community-minded intergenerational programs have emerged with high school kids and college students.
A successful intergenerational program called “AGE to age,” operating in rural northeastern Minnesota, tackles community problems by teaming up 20 or so young people with elders, educators, and other officials. The group identifies local concerns then utilizes seed money from The Northland Foundation to bring their plans for problem resolution to life.
In Gaithersburg, Maryland, a retirement community has teamed up with a non-profit that serves immigrant and Muslim youth to launch a series of “Courageous Conversations” between elders who faced discrimination in the past and kids who are facing it today.
Seniors clearly benefit from interacting with young people, but it is important to remember the positive effects intergenerational interactions have on youth, too. By simply spending time together, children gain a greater appreciation of what it is like to be an older person, awareness that can help them better accept their own aging in the future. Many elders say that imparting this knowledge is the most personally satisfying benefit of intergenerational programming of all.
Jennifer Bailey is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Martha & Mary, a non-profit care organization that has been serving children, seniors and families since 1891. Martha & Mary’s signature Intergenerational Program brings children from their child care centers to local senior living communities to participate in activities with senior residents that bridge the generations and enrich lives.