New Aging Models Bring Seniors & Children Together

A recent TED talk and article by Marc Freedman, author of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations, highlighted the importance of social connection and engagement between the elderly and younger people. The idea is to shift away from separating the elderly from children and to bring them together to create an environment that encompasses the full “circle of life.” As Freedman put it, “the real fountain of youth is the fountain with youth, to live together across time and ages, to do what only human beings can do for one another.”

For his book, Freedman investigated several new models of intergenerational living, which have become increasingly more common. One such model, for example, is a nursing home in Portland, which is built around a pre-school. As the school puts it, “we have an array of grandparents ready to be deployed.” Another model Freedman visited is in Singapore where a hospice that serves about 400 older people also includes a childcare center for about 50 children, ages two months to six years. The idea behind this model is to bring the generations back together, to find new ways to do old things and to foster bonds that benefit the young and old. Students at the primary school visit the hospice regularly, with some of them being mentored by the seniors. As one of the Sisters at the hospice explained to Freedman, “there is birth and there is death…at both ends, we all need someone to tend to us.”

According to research conducted by Generations United, intergenerational programs and facilities enhance socialization, stimulate learning, increase emotional support, and improve health among older adults.  For children they can improve academic performance, enhance social skills, decrease negative behavior, and increase stability.  At the community level, they can strengthen community ties, maximize human and financial resources, encourage cultural exchange, expand services, and inspire collaboration.

Additionally, recent review of research on intergenerational programs involving children and youth interacting with elderly with dementia noted a number of positive outcomes emerging from these efforts. Children had more positive views of aging and developed skills needed to relate to persons with dementia such as patience, sensitivity, compassion, respect, and empathy.  Participation in intergenerational programs increased their self-esteem and confidence and made them more attentive to older adults.  The older adults with dementia had an increased sense of purpose and usefulness, decreased anxiety, less agitation and fewer disruptive behaviors, and more social engagement at least for the duration of the interaction.

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