Intergenerational Programs: Pairing Young Adults And Seniors
In this fast paced world, there tends to be a separation of the generations, in contrast to the direct interaction that once existed between family members of all ages. However, as fewer extended families live together, multi-generational families are declining. Today, single family units are common as divorce and other factors create nuclear families with and without two parents. Many children are growing up without knowledge of or a relationship with grandparents.
As a result, a gap exists between young adults and seniors. Communication of skills and of living history and life in general are being lost or ignored. However, several programs exist to address these issues which team young adults with seniors. The common term for pairing young adults and seniors is intergenerational programming.
Why pair seniors and young adults?
Past and present research cites the need for and benefits of pairing young adults with seniors. These are applicable to both age groups. They range from providing a mentor to increased understanding of the different age groups. In fact, studies indicate that the positive aspects of pairing such “odd couples” extend into the community as a whole.
The most common advantages of intergenerational programs cited by Canadian and American government agencies are as follows:
• Promotes a better understanding of youth
• Helps increase a sense of community involvement
• Decreases the feeling of isolation
• Improves life satisfaction by decreasing loneliness and boredom
• Increases self-worth and a sense of purpose
• A new form of improving learning skills through interaction e.g. technological innovations
• A chance to meet other similarly minded individuals of all ages
• A means of giving back to their community
• A way to pass on life skills, history, life experiences and knowledge
• Health benefits may include decreased depression and improved physical, psychological and cognitive well-being
For the Young Adults
• Development of healthy attitudes towards and an understanding of the challenges of aging
• An improvement in self-worth
• A realization of culture, history and other life experiences
• A reinforced sense of social responsibility and community
• Improved social skills such as communication, problem-solving techniques, and other life skills
• Positive role models through mentoring results in a sense of stability
• Academic performance may improve – the young adults are less likely to skip school and perform better.
• Overall health and well-being increases since young adults tend to decrease drug usage
Intergenerational programs take many forms. Some programs involve visits to retirement communities and various senior residences. There are young adults and seniors who play bingo together, or meet to tell stories, share experiences and resources or act as a means of support for each other – emotional and otherwise. In one memorable project done in Ontario, Canada, seniors and young adults worked together to produce a video to raise awareness about elder abuse and ageism.
It is essential that we educate young adults about seniors if we want them to be prepared for their own future. Intergenerational programs help them to develop compassionate and informed experiences with older adults. By pairing young adults and seniors, we help create a healthy and integrated community. By encouraging intergenerational programs as the International Day Organization so aptly puts it: “All generations grow in an appreciation for cultural heritages, traditions, histories and values.” (IntergenerationDay.org, 2008).