Intergenerational Programs

Author: Amanda Woodward

| Published on: August,11 | Viewed: 3425 times

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Intergenerational programs bring children, youth, and older adults together in a variety of ways to build relationships and benefit communities.  Although such programs are not new, there is a growing interest in them.  According to Generations United, a national organization that focuses on intergenerational programs, there are a variety of reasons for this increased interest.  These include the aging population, changing views about retirement and the recognition that older adults and youth are both important resources, increasing age segregation in communities and families living further apart (both of which limit intergenerational contact), and gaps in services for all age groups that need to be met in new and creative ways.  

There is also a growing need for health care and social service professionals with expertise in geriatrics.  According to the American Geriatrics Society, only 3% of psychologists, less than 1% of registered nurses, and 4% of social workers specialize in working with older adults. Numerous studies have found that the more rewarding interactions students have with older adults, the more likely they are to pursue specialized geriatric training.  Intergenerational programs in universities and community colleges involving students considering health or social service careers may be one way to foster these interactions.

Intergenerational programs can include:

  • The young serving the old through friendly visiting programs in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, providing home services, or teaching things like computer skills or English as a second language.

  • Older adults serving the young through mentoring, staffing or volunteering in child care centers, and tutoring.

  • Older adults and the young serving together in performing/visual arts programs, family support programs, environmental preservation, and community service.

  • Older adults and the young sharing sites in intergenerational community centers, childcare centers located in senior housing, or senior centers located in schools and libraries where they can interact through informal encounters as well as scheduled activities.  A unique example of this is intergenerational housing such as a retirement home in The Netherlands that provides university students with rent-free housing in return for 30 hours a month of quality time with the older residents. 

A recent review of research on intergenerational programs involving children and youth interacting with persons with dementia noted a number of positive outcomes emerging from these efforts. The 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, although it is not clear whether these benefits continued once the children left.

Other research cited by Generations United has found that intergenerational programs 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.

There are a number of intergenerational programs in the Bay Area identified in the Generations United Program Directory.  Some of these were one-time events and some are ongoing.

  • Storybridge: This is an ongoing program of StateBridge, a theatre company “for, by, and of” seniors that trains older adults in storytelling and brings them to classrooms throughout the Bay Area.

  • Generations Day at Redwood Day School: In 2012, the Redwood Day School in Oakland invited grandparents, family members, and others to spend the day at the school.  They attended a performance put on by students from Kindergarten through 8th grade and spent time in classrooms participating in specially designed activities.

  • On Lok Senior Health Services: On Lok works with public and private schools in San Francisco to provide structured and unstructured intergenerational activities in their health centers.

  • Jewish Family and Children’s Services, The Next Chapter Project: For this project, high school students interviewed Holocaust survivors and documented these oral histories in written essays.  You can read the stories on their website.

  • UC Hastings Medical-Legal Partnership for Seniors Clinic: Law students from UC Hastings provide legal services for low-income older adults.  This is specifically for issues related to health, such as advance health care planning, estate planning, and public benefits.

  • Teens Teaching Seniors computers, San Francisco Public Library:   Teens host computer-related events and classes at different library branches for older adults.  A schedule of upcoming classes is available on the library website.

  • Ruth’s Table: This is a multigenerational art center in San Francisco that provides intergenerational classes and exhibits.

  • Dance Generators: This is an intergenerational dance company that is part of the University of San Francisco’s Department of Performing Arts and Social Justice.  Company members range in age from teens through eighties.

About Amanda Woodward

Amanda Toler Woodward, PhD is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Work at Michigan State University. She does research on services and supports for older adults including racial and ethnic disparities in access to services and international comparisons of service systems. She writes about a wide range of topics related to aging research, social work, academia, and whatever else catches her fancy at www.amandatolerwoodward.com


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