Intergenerational programs bring children, youth, and older adults together


Author: Amanda Woodward

| Posted on: August,11

Intergenerational programs bring children, youth, and older adults together in a variety of ways to build relationships and benefit communities.  Although such programs are not new, there is a growing interest in them.  According to Generations United, a national organization that focuses on intergenerational programs, there are a variety of reasons for this increased interest.  These include the aging population, changing views about retirement and the recognition that older adults and youth are both important resources, increasing age segregation in communities and families living further apart (both of which limit intergenerational contact), and gaps in services for all age groups that need to be met in new and creative ways.

There is also a growing need for health care and social service professionals with expertise in geriatrics.  According to the American Geriatrics Society, only 3% of psychologists, less than 1% of registered nurses, and 4% of social workers specialize in working with older adults. Numerous studies have found that the more rewarding interactions students have with older adults, the more likely they are to pursue specialized geriatric training.  Intergenerational programs in universities and community colleges involving students considering health or social service careers may be one way to foster these interactions.

Intergenerational programs can include:

  • The young serving the old through friendly visiting programs in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, providing home services, or teaching things like computer skills or English as a second language.

  • Older adults serving the young through mentoring, staffing or volunteering in child care centers, and tutoring.

  • Older adults and the young serving together in performing/visual arts programs, family support programs, environmental preservation, and community service.

  • Older adults and the young sharing sites in intergenerational community centers, childcare centers located in senior housing, or senior centers located in schools and libraries where they can interact through informal encounters as well as scheduled activities.  A unique example of this is intergenerational housing such as a retirement home in The Netherlands that provides university students with rent-free housing in return for 30 hours a month of quality time with the older residents.

A recent review of research on intergenerational programs involving children and youth interacting with persons with dementia noted a number of positive outcomes emerging from these efforts. The children had more positive views of aging and developed skills needed to relate to persons with dementia such as patience, sensitivity, compassion, respect, and empathy.  Participation in intergenerational programs increased their self-esteem and confidence and made them more attentive to older adults.  The older adults with dementia had an increased sense of purpose and usefulness, decreased anxiety, less agitation and fewer disruptive behaviors, and more social engagement at least for the duration of the interaction, although it is not clear whether these benefits continued once the children left.

Other research cited by Generations United has found that intergenerational programs enhance socialization, stimulate learning, increase emotional support, and improve health among older adults.  For children they can improve academic performance, enhance social skills, decrease negative behavior, and increase stability.  At the community level, they can strengthen community ties, maximize human and financial resources, encourage cultural exchange, expand services, and inspire collaboration.

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