Although most older adults prefer to age in place (Stone and Reinhard, 2007), many move into independent senior communities for a variety of reasons, ranging from health to nancial and social concerns (Sergeant and Ekerdt, 2008). Research suggests that when individuals transition into senior housing, many find it difficult to establish new social connections and/or become integrated into the broader community (Mitchell and Kemp, 2000; Carroll and Qualls, 2014). These barriers can result in a sense of being “left behind,” and can a ect an older adult’s quality of life (Blaschke, Freddolino and Mullen, 2009).
Independent living environments vary widely, and are rarely regulated or standardized (Stone and Reinhard, 2007). In some locations, independent living may be little more than senior apartment living with common meals and group transportation (Stone and Reinhard, 2007). When older adults move into independent living communities, the desire to age in place can be threatened, and quality of life may be reduced as familiar worlds are signi cantly changed (Chapin and Dobbs-Kepper, 2001; Park, 2009). This may be particularly detrimental
in the affordable housing setting, where residents are more likely to live alone, and often have higher rates of chronic conditions, lower incomes, and fewer social supports (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2014).
Loss of social connections, physical separation from familiar places and routines, and resulting emotional distress can combine to affect the mental and physical health of residents (Ball et al., 2000). Many residents of affordable senior housing may find themselves isolated, due to distance from or lack of transportation to community or group activities in which they previously participated. This isolation can lead to decreases in life satisfaction and mastery as well as increases in loneliness (Ball et al., 2000; Hawes and Phillips, 2000). Decreased contact with social network members outside the housing community, combined with the social constraints of institutional settings, can affect the quality and quantity of residents’ social interactions (Cannuscio et al., 2003).
Due to these factors, it is increasingly important for senior housing providers to offer residents a range of support services and to develop opportunities for residents to engage with and contribute to their communities. In addition to promoting general volunteerism and connecting residents with lifelong learning programs, there is a growing interest among housing providers in intergenerational programming.
Intergenerational practice involves bringing people together in purposeful, mutually benefcial activities that promote greater understanding and respect between generations and contribute to building more cohesive communities. Intergenerational practice is inclusive, and builds on the positive resources that both young and old can offer each other and those around them (Hatton-Yeo and Ohsako, 2000).
Research suggests that engagement in high-quality intergenerational programs and meaningful cross-age relationships may decrease social isolation and increase older adults’ sense of belonging, self-esteem and well- being (Barnes et.al.2004, Seeman et.al.2001). In addition to bene ting individuals, intergenerational programs and practices can address the pervasive ageism that threatens to undermine the social compact of obligations we have made to each other over time (Pastor and Carter, 2012; Robbins, 2015).
Senior housing can offer an ideal platform for high-quality intergenerational work, given the nature of housing to provide economies of scale that help to ensure sustainability. Developing long-term partnerships with local educational institutions and youth-serving agencies can help expand the social networks of older adults, create meaningful civic engagement opportunities, and build social capital within the broader community.
Although some intergenerational programs have been developed within senior housing, little is known about the characteristics of these programs and the implementation challenges they face.
The only national survey of intergenerational sites was conducted by AARP in 1997. A need exists to consolidate what is currently a body of small- scale and largely anecdotal research evidence on the benefits of intergenerational practice into a more systematic and critical review of the properties, principles and parameters of effective intergenerational practice (Bernard, 2006). A better understanding of the barriers and benefits faced by senior housing providers, particularly those serving low- resource communities, will provide valuable information about promising practices that can be replicated nationally.