How Intergenerational Activities Make Seniors Happier, Healthier
There was a time a few decades ago when it was common for extended families to live under the same roof or within a few streets of their relatives. It was a gift for all involved. Children, parents and grandparents could regularly participate in intergenerational activities — and everyone, young and old, benefited from their time together. For children, it meant listening to stories from “back in the day,” joining in celebrating beloved family traditions, and learning to respect and look up to their “elders.” Grandparents were there for all their grandkids’ “firsts” and could regularly pass on their wisdom to the next generation.
But times have changed. Today, adult children and grandchildren often live several states away, leaving aging parents feeling isolated and longing to enjoy the benefits of intergenerational activities and the close-knit lifestyles they cherished in the past.
Enlightened senior living communities like Lexington Square are helping to put a new spin on the pleasures of a bygone era. They’re proving that youngsters and oldsters don’t have to share a family tree to enjoy the benefits of sharing each other’s company. It seems that when these two generations are brought together to engage in child-focused senior living activities, wonderful things can happen. Along with the obvious emotional benefit of socialization, these planned connections allow young and old to find new meaning in “bridging the generation gap,” and positively change perceptions of each other. For seniors, simply being around children provides great cognitive stimulation and helps reduce feelings of isolation. Plus, there’s just something about being around youthful vigor that makes even a 90-year-old feel like a teenager again!
The bottom line is, intergenerational activities for seniors and youth yield many more benefits than smiles and goodwill — the positive effects are proven and measurable.
Here are some examples of the creative activities being initiated at senior living communities around the country right now and some of the emotional benefits they provide for both seniors and children:
Feeling Needed = Decreased Depression Odds, Improved Happiness
Seniors often feel “unnecessary” when no one depends on them any longer for comfort and safety. Creating multigenerational activities that help seniors feel needed and fulfilled are critical. In this era of latchkey kids, one creative way communities are helping seniors feel a sense of purpose and children feel safe and loved is through a program called Phone Pals. Phone Pals connects kids who are home alone after school with seniors who have plenty of time for chatting and assisting with homework.
A simple daily phone call seems like a small act, but its positive effects on both the elder and the child are huge. Studies have shown that older adults who have close intergenerational connections report much less depression, better physical health, and higher degrees of life satisfaction. Feeling “needed” also helped them feel happier with their present life and more hopeful for the future. And children who feel needed develop a much more positive self-image and greater confidence.
Teaching/Learning New Skills = Improved Senior Memory and Cognition
Many seniors have skills and hobbies that kids have never been exposed to, like gardening, woodworking, cooking and even knitting. And of course, kids and teens are experts at computers, the internet, and social media. Imagine how powerful an experience it can be when all this knowledge is exchanged! Turning youths and older adults into both teachers and learners isn’t just fun; it helps seniors feel valued, not to mention the reassurance that they are still contributing members of society. Passing along knowledge to children also allows seniors to have a powerful, positive impact on future generations, and that feels pretty darn good. Kids come out ahead as well: when older adults regularly visit schoolchildren and participate in activities with them, reading scores for those kids improved compared to their peers at other schools.
Mentoring Youth = Renewed Sense of Purpose and Contribution
Children blossom when they receive guidance from adults, and wise seniors have a lifetime of experiences to share. Helping a child improve their school skills and/or guiding them to make better life choices gives older adults a renewed sense of purpose, not to mention heightening their self-esteem — an important and healthy attitude that is often lost when their children are grown or following retirement.
And there are a few other kid-helping health benefits worth noting: Statistics show that seniors who regularly volunteer with children burn 20% more calories per week, plus they experienced fewer falls, needed canes less, and excelled at memory tests (beating out seniors who never or rarely volunteered with kids).
Building Generational Bridges = Breaks Down Fear of the Elderly
It may seem shocking to some, but children who don’t get a lot of exposure to the elderly can actually be afraid of them or have negative perceptions of them. The media doesn’t help when they portray older adults in scary, menacing roles or make them seem doddering and less than human. Seniors feel it, and they can respond by withdrawing from social situations, which isn’t healthy emotionally or physically.
Simple conversations about current events or sharing stories about family traditions, even telling favorite jokes together, can all help build generational bridges that break down fears and negative stereotypes — and promote positive attitudes toward aging. And when older adults converse with children, they get the chance to see the world through a child’s eyes — a gift they may not get to experience if their grandkids live hundreds of miles away.
Lexington Square’s two senior living communities, Elmhurst Square and Lombard Square, have witnessed the benefits of intergenerational activities firsthand. They’ve seen how programs like those described here can bring out the very best in residents, even rekindle a zest for life that was lost over the years. Connections, bonds and relationships — these are the things that make us feel whole and human. And everyone, regardless of their age, deserves to have them in their life.
Learn more about all the activities and events on our schedule. You’re sure to find plenty to do here!