The concept of “intergenerational involvement” is not new. For much of human history, older generations of families have lived in the same home with younger generations–or at least nearby–to the benefit of all age demographics. Children are enriched by the close involvement of grandparents; seniors find vitality in spending time with their grandchildren and have help with day-to-day self-care if needed; and adult children have assistance with childcare and potentially other household duties. This multigenerational “full-circle” of life can be a win-win-win for many families.
But the realities of the modern world mean that many families no longer live in these multigenerational settings. Adult children may move far away from their parents in order to pursue a relationship, an education, or job opportunities. And seniors may want to retire to a more temperate climate or possibly a retirement community, such as a continuing care retirement community (also called CCRC or “life plan community”).
With these various modern-day retirement living situations, formal programs that recognize the many advantages of the young and the old spending quality time together–-relatives or not–-are becoming increasingly popular in the United States. One in particular that has received a lot of attention lately is the program created for the retirement communities managed by Judson Services, Inc., in northern Ohio. Learn more about Judson's intergenerational program.
Generations United is a national organization that advocates for increased intergenerational involvement. As stated in their mission, the group strives to “improve the lives of children, youth, and older people through intergenerational collaboration, public policies, and programs for the enduring benefit of all.”
The organization works to develop programs that connect generations, instead of separating or isolating them, as most facilities and programs have effectively done in our country. One such program developed by Generations United is Shared Spaces. Often conducted at childcare centers, assisted living facilities, or continuing care retirement communities, this program creates intergenerational shared locations that allow children, youth, and older adults to participate together in educational, recreational, or social programs and activities.
Donna Butts is the executive director of Generations United and says the concept of these intergenerational facilities has been around for about 25 years and shows enormous benefits for both the young and the old.
Seniors involved in Shared Spaces or similar intergenerational programs are revitalized by the time they spend with the young participants. They tend to be have a more optimistic outlook, wider social networks, better memories, and take better care of themselves. For young participants, the extra attention from a surrogate grandparent-figure helps improve social skills and reduces their fear of aging. Children learn that wheelchairs and walkers are not scary–they are simply a part of life.
There are hundreds of intergenerational facilities and programs in the U.S., and the trend is gaining popularity as Baby Boomers look for care facilities for their aging parents that are both stimulating and engaging.
“People are starting to wake up and smell the demographics,” says Ms. Butts from Generations United. “We have this older demographic, and we can look at it as a problem or as an asset…people of all ages have something to give.”