Excited preschoolers crowded around men and women old enough to be their grandparents, ready to read.

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But the people narrating picture books and acting out plotlines with their hands weren’t their relatives. Rather, they were senior citizens at the retirement home and assisted-living facility Legacy Lodge at Jackson Hole.

“I was looking for ways to branch out and try some things that would be really beneficial for our residents,” said Alenlia Woerner, director of life enrichment. “We play a lot of cards around here, but it doesn’t really bring the joy or the engagement I was looking for.”

Woener partnered with Children’s Learning Center teachers Michelle Rutecki and Heather Menke to offer a twice-a-month opportunity for generations to collide and unite over something that makes them both happy: reading. Children’s Learning Center is the area’s largest early education center serving kids ages birth through 5, and it just happens to have a location across the street from Legacy Lodge.

“It’s just wonderful to be able to spend time with older people in a sweet setting,” said Patti Boyd, the learning center’s executive director. “There’s nothing like reading together that is a really intimate, wonderful activity for children to do.”

Legacy Lodge cited information from Generations United, a nonprofit that works to improve the lives of children and older adults, that shows that intergenerational programs are beneficial for all participants. Children show improved reading scores compared with their peers when older adults are frequent volunteers in schools, and interacting with older adults helps kids develop a more positive attitude toward aging, according to the nonprofit.

Study this chart from the NIH….. Intergenerational Centers are part of the solution.

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This chart made me stop and look a couple of times. It came from the NIH, (National Institute of Health). It is nicely color coded for the different generations. The Baby Boomer’s (tan)certainly hit the jackpot as far as quantity goes, but the Millenials (blue) and Gen Z (Green) did spike a few million births.

What was most interesting to me, after studying the chart was the 2 somewhat random lines, the grey one and a black one.  They represent our aging population. We are in the calm before the storm  relatively speaking and the spike in volume is impending, down the road a few years.

I was recently at a luncheon in Boca Raton with ALF builders, operators, Bankers etc and everyone agreed on one point, ‘no one is ready for this’.

Benefits of intergenerational programs for seniors

Seniors’ centres and child-care facilities are working together to run successful intergenerational day care programs in many communities across Canada.

Intergenerational programs for seniors offer an opportunity to bridge the generation gap offering numerous benefits for both generations.

Intergenerational programs for seniors and youth isn’t really a new idea, but this type of program is definitely a model of care that is getting more attention these days. Given the opportunity to share time together, seniors and children can enrich each other’s lives in many ways.

The generation gap at home

It used to be more common that multiple generations would share the same household. Grandparents would see their grandchildren every day and often shared in the responsibility of raising them.

Now, many families experience more of a separation in their everyday living arrangements between generations.

This separation could be due to living in different cities, living in larger homes where everyone has their own space, or the trend towards more seniors moving to senior living communities. These days, it’s rare to find grandparents and their grandchildren residing under one roof.

Types of intergenerational programs

There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to intergenerational programs for seniors. For example, some schools or childcare facilities will plan weekly visits between children and seniors, other programs will involve daily classroom supports.

The idea is to get seniors and children interacting by spending time doing enjoyable activities together. Music, dance, reading, and art are some examples of activities people of any generation can enjoy together.

It’s important to look at the different age groups involved. Older children may be better suited for quiet visiting time, or possibly playing a card game or completing a puzzle. Whereas younger children may have difficulty sitting still for long periods of time, so they might enjoy more active games.

Something else that program administrators look at is ensuring that participants want to join the intergenerational program.

There are people who just aren’t interested in participating, or may not enjoy spending time with children so it’s important to the success of the program that everyone involved wants to participate.

Benefits of intergenerational programs

Both generations can benefit from the companionship, and there is a lot they can learn from one another.

Benefits for children

Children are reinforced with appropriate manners, patience, tolerance, and encouraged to explore their curiosity while learning empathy and important social skills. They learn how to interact with people who are much older and may need extra assistance or a more gentle approach.

Children develop a sense of pride and leadership even as they receive unconditional love and acceptance from seniors.

The children also learn about the importance of relationships with the seniors in their community.

Interacting with people of all ages and abilities is an important aspect of developing life-long social skills for children. There are even claims that children who share space with older adults demonstrate higher reading abilities, improved verbal and communication skills, and have fewer behavioural problems.

Benefits for seniors

For seniors participating in intergenerational day care programs the opportunity to spend time with children and the joy they bring is often the highlight of their day. The elderly are natural nurturers while children bring a lot of positive energy to any room they enter, and seniors are thriving off of that energy.

Some intergenerational programs for seniors report that seniors gain improved self-esteem and a feeling of usefulness within their communities. They may also be more active, which can help with their continued mobility; and the chance to exercise their minds in different ways doesn’t hurt either.

By sharing time together, seniors are helping the children learn and grow while the children help stimulate seniors both mentally and physically.

Some seniors are even interested in learning how to use new technology, and intergenerational day care programs can provide the perfect opportunity for knowledge sharing.

There are programs that offer seniors the chance to partner with a child/teen who can help them to learn to use things like Facebook, or a tablet.

Summary

Intergenerational programs for seniors offer an opportunity to bridge the generation gap offering numerous benefits for both generations. The care, the connections, and the intimate relationships that develop can be some of the most powerful things that we can witness as caregivers.

Meaningful social engagement through intergenerational activities is a value add for young and old. It’s important to learn from others and understand how to talk with and relate to people of all ages.

Intergenerational programs for seniors and youth is the kind of relationship building that is the cornerstone of respectful communities, which in turn helps to develop global citizenship.

Aging in Style: Intergenerational models are a win-win

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By Karen Pfieffer-Bush
Thursday, November 02, 2017 11:17 AM

A documentary called “The Growing Season” will make a debut in New York City next month. This film, directed by Evan Briggs, was shot over the course of a year at the Intergenerational Learning Center. The center is a daycare and preschool housed within Providence Mount Saint Vincent, a senior community in West Seattle. The film features interactions between senior residents of “the Mount” and the children attending the center.

My son, who is now a high school senior, attended the center from ages three to five. He still remembers it. And I certainly remember the wonderful interactions between residents and preschoolers. They created art together, celebrated holidays, and hosted special events. Some of the more able-bodied seniors could be seen rocking babies in the nursery. It made this first-time mom feel better about going back to work.

In addition to the “feel goods” for parents, there’s evidence that seniors benefit by being surrounded by young people. By spending time with people of differing ages and abilities, children are beneficiaries as well.

The film asks, “If given the chance, with the present moment being the only shared realm, what can the very young and the very old offer each other?” There are certainly moments of amusement, joy, and patience but, at times, the impact changes lives for a lifetime.

Differing ages can interact

There are other communities here and around the nation and world that embrace this “intergenerational model.”

At Wesley Homes in Des Moines, Washington, students from Highline College get to live in the senior community at reduced rental rates; this is in exchange for volunteering within the community. Several students offer tech support to senior residents; others help with daily tasks that seniors might find difficult. Reviews by the residents are glowing; daily, these young people are positively impacting lives within the senior community.

Here’s another example: There’s a senior community in our area that has “adopted” a little league baseball team. Many of the community residents attend every practice. Because so many residents want to attend the team’s games, a second bus must be rented on game days.

The baseball players have become regular visitors to the community and the coaches have sought advice from senior residents. Incidentally, they were one of the winningest teams in the area. An 89-year-old resident who, as a young man, played minor league baseball, never missed a single game or practice. He summed it, saying, “This relationship is clearly a win-win.”

Continuing education for seniors

In addition to bringing young people into senior communities, we are seeing a push towards retirees moving into younger communities like college towns.

Colleges and universities recognize the benefit of having older adults on campus. These institutions offer “lifelong learning” opportunities through organizations like the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Washington. In addition to on-campus programming, the institute takes learning programs out to area senior communities.

Studies in aging and brain health show staying mentally active and socially engaged has long-term emotional and health benefits. Yes, this can be accomplished by engaging with contemporaries. But many retirees, especially those “forever-young” baby boomers, choose to be around younger people whenever possible.

Giving and getting

Many boomers and other retirees are also actively involved in giving back through tutoring, mentoring, and volunteering. Young, or not so young, volunteering always does the heart good. If you’re having a bad day, challenge yourself to do something nice for someone. It may not completely fix your day but it certainly helps.

To quote a facilitator featured in the “The Growing Season” documentary, “Whether you’re young or old, there is only one time to be happy; that time is now.” Therefore, what will you do to find your happy? Will you find it through the wisdom of an elder or the joy of a child? Either way, remember: The present is our only shared realm. Let’s make it a win-win.

Oh my!

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By the year 2036, 40% of people over age 62 are projected to have assets of $25,000 or less, and 20% are expected to have $5,000 or less in assets, according to figures presented by Plante Moran Living Forward at the 2016 Senior Housing News Chicago Summit on July 14.

By 2040, the number of those age 85 and up is expected to triple to 14.6 million, meaning there will undoubtedly be a need for senior housing that’s more affordable for the middle-income population.

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