Connecting young and old is a win-win outcome
Social connectedness is a key factor in the well being of older adults. Community programs for the aging are often focused on bringing seniors together social opportunities with their peers. Traditionally, less emphasis has been placed on creating opportunities for older adults to spend time with young people. As the aging population increases, there appears to be a growing movement toward implementation of programs that bridge the gap between the eldest and the youngest amongst us. Intergenerational programming is an effective and inspiring way to connect many generations.
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Making Music Together
Since 1987, Music Together®, has introduced millions of children, parents, and teachers to the powerful benefits of having music in their lives. One of the program offerings is the intergenerational music class, which brings together families with young children and residents in nursing and retirement homes.
Miranda Hayden, Director of Catskill Mountain Music Together®, ran an intergenerational music class for several years. Says Hayden, “These women really saw these kids as extended grandkids. They were so warm, the children warmed right up to them.”
Hayden believes that the program benefited the children, their parents, the seniors, and the facility staff equally. “It allowed the children to make friends with people of all ages. The children in turn brought joy to the elderly, reminding them of their own young family members. Some residents said it was their favorite time of the week. Staff members enjoyed seeing their residents having so much fun. ”
Music is just one way to bring generations together. Other programs utilize art, academic tutoring, physical fitness, storytelling, and volunteerism as conduits for connection. Some programs offer day care services for both children and seniors under one roof – mixing the generations in various activities throughout the day.
Generations United (GU) is a Washington DC based not for profit group whose mission it to “improve the lives of children youth and older people through intergenerational collaboration, public policies, and programs for the enduring benefit of all.”
GU’s comprehensive website provides information about effective intergenerational programs that are taking place across the country. GU asserts, “Through intergenerational programs, people of all ages share their talents and resources, supporting each other in relationships that benefit both the individuals and the community. Successful program are based on reciprocity, are sustained and intentional, and involve education and preparation for all ages. Young and old are viewed as assets and not problems to be solved.”
Motivated by other intergenerational programs worldwide, Liz Martorano founded S.K.I.P. (Seniors and Kids Intergenerational Programs.) In a 2009 article in the Brant News, Martorano discussed her inspiration. “In other parts of the world, elders are highly respected and the younger generations are eager to sit at their feet and learn from them. We have not re-invented the wheel, we are just re-introducing something that has been lost.”
The benefits of intergenerational programs are many, and often overlap for the young and the old. For both groups there is diverse socialization, increased emotional support, and an opportunity to learn from one another in a joyful and playful way. The very old often see improvements in health and wellbeing, and a more positive outlook on life. Young people learn that older adults are not just grey-haired and wrinkled. Instead, they are human beings with rich histories and experience to be shared. Both groups learn patience, tolerance, appreciation of differences and respect. Engagement in an effective Intergenerational program can offer elders an opportunity to reignite their sense of purpose and give greater meaning to what can sometimes be a difficult and confusing time in life.
The simple experience of joy and laughter when seniors and children come together to learn and play cannot be underemphasized. For seniors - a population at risk for grief, depression, and social isolation, it is possibly the greatest outcome.
A Natural Connection
It’s a connection as natural as the earth and sky. A well-known passage from the Book of Common Prayer says, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust” and it is true that from where we come, we go. I can recall watching my grandmother’s body movements in the final days of her life, her 89 year-old body going back to autonomic movement. Her left her arm would rise up, pause, and fall down. Two years later, I watched in amazement as my newborn daughter’s arms did the exact same thing. This is the cycle of life and those at either end of the spectrum are inextricably connected. There’s a natural wisdom in the eyes of a child and there’s a learned wisdom in the heart of our elders. Yet somehow we’ve lost opportunities for connections between these kindred spirits. Intergenerational programs are making a difference in helping us find them again.
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com
Allison Gould, ESME’s Caregiving Resource Guide, is a licensed clinical social worker. For many years, her work focused on adolescents and their families. She currently provides outpatient counseling services to people aged 65 and older, as well as to their caregivers, at the Center for Healthy Aging at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck, New York.
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