In a Huffington Post article titled “Generational Warfare Is a Media Myth: Seniors and Kids Need Each Other,” from November 2014, a clear rationale for intergenerational programming is outlined. Children and adults thrive on face-to-face contact. In fact, it is suggested that there is an inclination for older adults to connect with and guide children, which likely results in increased happiness and positive emotional well-being, according to research by George Vaillant of Harvard Medical School.
The body of quantitative data detailing the benefits of intergenerational programming is limited. There is not extensive published research demonstrating that seniors or youth show substantial physical or emotional gains based on interpersonal contact with one another, but observation and commentaries on this kind of interactive programming across generations paints a clear picture of positive impact.
This year, Hebrew SeniorLife will conduct over 75 multi-visit multigenerational programs across our six housing communities for seniors. These programs will engage youth ages pre-school through college, in public and private schools. HSL designs these programs in collaboration with educators and geriatric professionals to support the needs and interests of everyone involved. The impact of this work is crystal clear.
When students interact with seniors over a sustained period, they exhibit clear growth in overcoming fears they harbored of people experiencing physical and cognitive challenges associated with aging. They learn to make conversation, addressing their new friends empathically with appropriate affect and clarity. They come to enjoy the opportunity of learning about the past as a guide to their own meaningful and productive futures.
The voices of students tell the story:
“Speaking to the ladies there totally made my night! As I was on the phone to my mom on my walk to the car, she kept asking me why I was so happy, and I told her how I couldn’t stop smiling because the Center Communities event was just incredible. “
Another student wrote,
“Each resident I visit has different points of view and memories to tell, all equally interesting and educating. Their conversations with me have taught me that sharing stories is a very important part of education and learning.”
“Today I met someone who I will never forget. Learning about her background and her life story opened my eyes up. She really inspired me to live life to the fullest and make the best of any situation. I will never forget this trip to Simon Fireman Community and I will always keep her as an inspiration of my life.”
As for seniors, it is often more difficult to capture their reactions, particularly when working with those who are significantly compromised verbally and cognitively. Staff members hear residents’ repeated mention of their visitors in the hours and days following their connections with youth. Negative behaviors are minimized. And occasionally, comments are captured that make it very clear how important it is for seniors to be connected with the next generation.
“Walking into that classroom is like being surrounded by a room full of 20 grandchildren.”
Following a student visit, a resident with Alzheimer’s disease commented,
“We are rejuvenating!”
The need for intergenerational connection is limitless, and Hebrew SeniorLife is distinguishing itself in the field of innovation in senior care though a continuing commitment to this work. Our goal is to keep our residents healthy and engaged through connection with the outside community, and to create a compassionate citizenry, eager to support the needs of a rapidly growing senior population.