When it comes to improving the well-being of seniors, there may be nothing more transformational than the power of positive relationships. At Park Senior Villas, we see the transformative effect of deepening social connections every day.
We see friendships growing between residents, bonds developing between staff and residents, and deep connections forming between staff and residents’ family members. While each relationship is unique, collectively they shape our communities. They are what make our communities feel as though they are home to one large, extended family.
It’s no wonder, then, that we go to great lengths to build and nurture these relationships. At the same time, we know the importance of creating, facilitating, and maintaining social connections with the larger community surrounding our locations.
Through intergenerational programming, we help residents in our communities keep up with what’s going on in the world beyond our communities. And inviting others to spend time in our communities gives them an opportunity to get to know the remarkable people who live here.
This dual-purpose approach to senior programming benefits everyone who participates in our events and activities. And, the ripple effects touch even more lives.
Why Intergenerational Programming Matters
Older adults who live alone are more likely to experience the detrimental physical and mental effects of loneliness and isolation, including loss of appetite, lethargy, sleep loss, cognitive decline, pessimism, heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, and a weakened immune system, according to the National Institute on Aging.
Even older couples and seniors who live with their families can feel lonely or isolated if there’s a lack of meaningful involvement. Well-intentioned family members get busy with work, school, and social and extracurricular activities. They may not realize their loved one is feeling left out or lonely.
Engaging with other older adults, whether through a senior living community or at a senior center in their residential area, can alleviate feelings of loneliness and isolation. So can interacting with people in a variety of age groups, which can open up opportunities that might otherwise be missed.
Seniors have accumulated considerable knowledge, experience, and an assortment of skills. This depth gives them a valuable perspective on life, along with plenty of wisdom and expertise to share.
What’s more, research conducted by Laura Carstensen, founding director of the Stanford Center on Longevity at Stanford University, indicates that as people get older, their brains improve in ways such as complex problem-solving and emotional skills.
Intergenerational programs aid in generativity, a term psychoanalyst Erik Erikson coined to describe intentions or actions related to guiding the development and advancement of younger generations. Mentoring is a prime example.
In a report from the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging, Carstensen wrote:
“Because of the size of the boomer cohort, the norms they set will not only have short-term ramifications, but may endure for generations. A great deal is at stake. If boomers establish expectations about giving back to communities and investing in younger generations, they can put the United States on track to become a better nation.”
The Benefits of Intergenerational Programs
Generations United, a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to improve the lives of children, youth, and older people through intergenerational collaboration, public policies, and programs for the enduring benefit of all,” notes that intergenerational programs positively affect every age group, from babies to seniors.
For young children, according to Generations United, the benefits of intergenerational programs include:
- Better vocabulary and language abilities, as well as enhanced reading and writing skills
- Increased patience, respect, compassion, and empathy
- Reductions in anxiety, sadness, and stress
- Improvements in mood management and problem-solving
For preteens and teenagers, benefits include:
- Better performance in school studies
- Decreased symptoms of depression
- Less bullying and victimization, in part due to enhanced reasoning and conflict resolution skills
- Reductions in substance use and eating disorders
- More self-confidence and a greater sense of purpose in life
Benefits for older adults include:
- Less social isolation
- Better quality of life
- Greater sense of purpose, empowerment, self-worth, and self-esteem
- Reduced falls and frailty as a result of increased strength, balance, and mobility
- Gains in new skills and knowledge
Additionally, Generations United notes, people of all ages can enjoy certain benefits of intergenerational relationships, such as:
- Less ageism and age discrimination — among both young people and older adults
- Better mental, physical, and cognitive health
- A greater sense of belonging and connection with others of varying ages
- More acceptance of others
More Research Findings on the Benefits of Intergenerational Relationships
In an article published in the Los Angeles Times earlier this year, Laura Newberry mentioned an interesting finding from the Harvard Study of Adult Development, an ongoing study that began tracking more than 700 men in 1938.
Researchers in the study found that those who invested in younger generations (through generativity) were three times more likely to be happy in their 70s when compared with those who did not. They also have a tendency to be more alert and more optimistic about the future, she noted.
To gather information for her article, Newberry spoke with Marc Freedman, founder and co-CEO of CoGenerate, another nonprofit organization that endeavors to unite generations. Freedman told her the two most important elements in building intergenerational relationships are proximity and purpose.
Proximity allows for both parties in the relationship to see each other regularly, she wrote, while having a common purpose — similar interests or goals — helps people of different ages form meaningful bonds.
Spotlight on a New Intergenerational Collaboration at Park Senior Villas
Family and friends of residents in our communities are welcome (and heartily encouraged) to attend nearly all Park Senior Villas events and activities, and we make a special point of inviting members of the surrounding community to many of our events. It’s heartwarming to see everyone having such a great time together, from very young children to seniors in their 80s, 90s, and older.
This fall, we took our intergenerational programming a step further. Our Houghton community began collaborating with a Tucson-area nonprofit organization called Young at HeART Together to promote interactions between Park Senior Villas residents and local children.
Among its activities, the organization invites people in the Tucson area to attend regularly scheduled sessions where they can create artwork, or heARTwork, as they like to call it. Mostly families with young children come to have fun. The organization delivers donated heARTwork on a regular basis to “grandfriends” at local assisted living communities.
Sometimes the monthly deliveries are timed to coincide with play-group visits in the senior living communities. The children, who are mostly preschoolers, spend an hour playing with residents, singing, dancing, and having fun.
Co-Directors Joanna Wilson-Urbina and Maria Gamburg recall a recent play-group visit to our Houghton community. The kids and residents were singing children’s songs, like the Alphabet Song and Skinamarinky Dinky Dink. When they launched into a giggle-filled version of the Hokey Pokey, Maria says, many of the residents got up and joined the kids in acting out the words to the song.
“After they finished singing, there were lots of hugs!” Maria said.
“It’s a celebration for that one hour we’re together, with so much happiness and singing and laughing. I love it!” Joanna said. “I leave every time feeling so overjoyed.”
“The way to build seeds of love and create a foundation for relationships is through consistency,” Joanna noted. “We become like family. Our grandfriends know we’re going to show up with a little something, a piece of artwork, for them.”
“We’re helping younger generations learn to honor and value our elders,” Joanna added.
Maria chimed in: “And to be kind.”
The program, which is one of the most successful we’ve seen at Park Senior Villas, has brought awareness and appreciation for older adults in assisted living. Because it’s been so beneficial for residents and children alike, we’re working on expanding it to all of our communities.
“At a recent event, several residents interacted who hadn’t in the past, singing and smiling. The older children had fun delivering gifts they’d made to residents throughout the community,” said Christina Ryan, Park Senior Villas’ CEO.
“We’ve noticed a significant change in residents’ moods during and after interacting with the children,” said Samantha Woods, the activities director at our Houghton community. “By having these weekly visits, we’re creating opportunities to form strong connections between generations. Even residents who rarely interact or express emotion have enthusiastically joined our play group sessions. It’s a really fun time for everyone!
Ready for More Information?
If you want to learn more about Park Senior Villas and other ways we foster intergenerational relationships, contact us. If you like, we’ll be happy to set up a time for you to visit any of our communities.
To see what’s going on in our Phoenix and Tucson communities, check out our events calendar. You can get the details and RSVP to any events that pique your interest!