Intergenerational programs are opportunities for members of different generations to gain a deeper understanding of each other. Typically, they are interactions between the young and the elderly – those at opposite ends of the age spectrum – often organized in senior living residences. They’re planned interactions in which participants play games, share stories, and learn from each other. They can involve independent, active seniors or those who are dependent, suffering from physical or cognitive decline.
The benefits of intergenerational programs can be seen in both the children and seniors who participate. These are just some of the benefits seniors enjoy from participating in intergenerational programs.
1) Changing Perceptions of Age
One of the toughest challenges facing an aging society is attitudes about age. Aging is commonly something people fear – they worry they’re going to lose their independence, their looks, and feel out of touch. The concerns of elderly citizens often aren’t taken seriously. These are symptoms of ageism.
Intergenerational programs help change those attitudes from a young age. They can show kids that elderly citizens have a lot to offer the world, and that it’s worth listening to what they have to say.
2) More Exercise & Energy
Seniors who spend more time with kids have more energy and more active lives. Kids are bounding with energy and keeping up can be a workout on its own. Intergenerational programs that involve physical activities like gardening help seniors burn more calories and stay mobile.
3) Sense of Purpose
Volunteering for intergenerational programs that involve underprivileged youth can be a great way for older, retired seniors to foster a sense of purpose and meaning. Volunteer work can help elderly citizens fulfill a need to “be useful,” something that follows us through our lives long after we’ve retired and our own families have grown up.
4) Learning New Technology
Technology literacy is something many older adults struggle with. Although technology like smartphones are increasingly used by older adults, there’s still a “digital divide” that becomes particularly pronounced among seniors over the age of 80. Only 17% of those age 80+ own a smartphone, and only 58% use any kind of cellphone at all.
Kids on the other hand are growing up in an unprecedently tech-focused world, and they have the advantage of being “digital natives.” They’re extremely comfortable with technology of all kinds and eager to share their knowledge. When kids and older adults spend time together, seniors have a chance to become more comfortable with technology.
5) Cognitive Benefits
Spending time with kids can also be beneficial for seniors with dementia. Studies have shown that participating in intergenerational programs can improve scores on memory tests, and seniors with dementia have more positive experiences when they are intergenerational than when they aren’t.
Young and old have a lot to offer each other. Intergenerational programs are a unique way of bringing distant demographics together, and in the process, benefiting both. They provide health benefits for seniors, help change ageist attitudes, and give kids a chance to learn something from their elders.