There was a time in this country when it was not unusual for three and sometimes four generations of one family to live near one another or even within the same household. Today, however, there is a rather different picture of the American family—one in which generations very commonly live in separate states and sometimes separate countries, thanks to a number of factors that have had societal benefits but have also created our current conundrum of generational segregation.
As unintentional as this separation may be, the fact is that technology, longer lifespans, and greater mobility, among other things, have resulted in adult children moving away from their parents for better work prospects, grandparents and grandchildren living hundreds of miles away from each other, and older adults living in isolated settings like nursing homes and retirement communities.
In its new report, Generations United examines this topic and makes an excellent and insightful case for bringing children and older adults together again. Generations United is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of “children, youth, and older adults through intergenerational collaboration, public policies, and programs for the enduring benefit of all.” The report highlights examples of pioneering programs that are reuniting the generations and making their communities better places to live.
Titled “I Need You, You Need Me: The Young, the Old, and What We Can Achieve Together,”the report also includes the findings of a national Harris Poll survey of 2,000 U.S. adults:
· 53 percent say that few of the people they regularly spend time with outside their family are much older or younger than they are;
· 93 percent agree that children and youth benefit from building relationships with elders in their communities;
· 92 percent believe that elders benefit from building relationships with children and youth; and
· 78 percent believe the federal government should invest in programs that bring together young and old Americans.
If you are a provider of long-term care and/or aging services, it would behoove you to take the survey result to heart and address the opportunities they present. Intergenerational programs are win-win for older adults and children. And our sector is uniquely positioned with the access and know-how to make such programs happen.
According to research cited in the report, intergenerational engagement offers many benefits:
· Elders become less isolated and feel less lonely.
· Elders who were previously cut off from their communities find connection and companionship.
· Kids introduce elders to new technology and cultural phenomena.
· Elders get more exercise—to keep up with kids, elders have to keep moving, which, in turn, boosts their cognitive, mental, and physical health.
· Young people help elders with chores and errands.
· Elders’ perceptions of young people change.
· New relationships and experiences enrich the lives of all involved.
Let’s add to the conversation that bringing young and old together helps to change perceptions about aging. With meaningful interaction comes a more positive view about being old.
Among the many programs highlighted in the report is DOROT, an initiative based in New York City that mobilizes more than 7,000 volunteers— many of them children, teens, and young adults—to serve 3,000 isolated elders each year. Volunteers visit with the same homebound elder every week. Others deliver holiday packages to elders, make birthday cards for them, and escort them to museums and movies, according to the report.
DOROT also operates a summer internship program that enables high school and college students to spend time with elders and explore the field of aging services. For many students, the experience is transformative.
Could intergenerational programs become the norm among long-term care/aging services providers? Imagine the potential benefits to elders, community youth, employees with children/elder family members. And imagine the possibilities for business development, programming, community engagement, and local support. It could change the paradigm and advance the notion that providers are an integral, multifaceted part of the greater community.
If you want a focused approach to creating innovative intergenerational programs in your community, facilitated by experts in the field, contact Quantum Age today.