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Rationale: Why Bring Generations Together?

Interaction among multiple generations is not a new concept. It was once considered the norm for several generations to live together, or at least very close by.

What changed?

Greater geographic mobility, and an increase in the number of individuals living independently into much older age, hasmade age-segregated living accommodations far more common. This segregation offers older adults easier access to aging services, but it also raises the likelihood that an older adult will experience increased social isolation and the loss of his or her role as a guiding presence within extended families and social networks.

When older adults move to congregate housing settings, they often must sever the social connections they enjoyed as long-time members of their former communities. Many older adults find it difficult to establish new social connections or become integrated into the broader community after such a move. This lack of connection to former and current communities leaves older adults feeling left behind. The associated feelings of isolation affect their quality of life and can lead to decreased life satisfaction and loneliness.

In the face of these challenges, it becomes increasingly important for providers of senior housing to develop opportunities for residents to continue engaging with and contributing to their communities through intergenerational engagement.

Intergenerational engagement brings people of different ages together in purposeful, mutually beneficial activities that promote greater understanding and respect between generations. Such engagement builds on the positive resources that young and old have to offer each other and to their communities.

Research suggests that engagement in high-quality intergenerational programs and in meaningful cross-age relationships can decrease social isolation among older adults while increasing their feelings of belonging, self-esteem, and well-being.

Young people also benefit from intergenerational programs,which can help them experience improvements in behavior and academic skills, increased self-esteem, and a greater sense of empathy.

Intergenerational programs and practices can also address our society’s pervasive ageism, which threatens to undermine the”social compact” of obligations that we have to one another.

Senior housing can be an ideal platform for high-quality intergenerational programming. When housing communities develop long-term partnerships with local educational institutions and youth-serving agencies, they help expand the social networks of older adults, create meaningful civic engagement opportunities, and build social capital within the broader community.

Why Foster Intergenerational Interaction? A Real-World Example

Austin Adams was working with residents at Friendsview Retirement Community in Newberg, OR, as part of his master’s in social work (MSW) program at George Fox University when he met Dale Sloat, a resident leader. Dale had been convening a men’s group through which he and his fellow male residents discussed topics ranging from health to the trials and tribulations of married life. Austin soon learned that he and his peers also struggled with some of these issues.

Austin and Dale became fast friends and decided to convene a weekly intergenerational men’s group where students and residents could share challenges and successes related to their lives.

Dale and Austin

“Perspective is a keyword. I think intergenerational contact gives perspective to our lives and how far we have come since we were their age. It gives us perspective on their hopes and dreams in a contemporary sense. It also provides an opportunity to encourage young people in their future careers and faith journeys.”

—Dale Sloat, resident and men’s group co-leader, Friendsview, Newberg, OR

“I love interacting with older adults because it provides me with a sense of service. I feel that I have so much that I can share with them in addition to what I can learn from them. The personal connection has more meaning and connecting with residents at Friendsview face to face has gone beyond any relationship on social media.”

—Austin Adams, George Fox University MSW student and men’s group co-leader, Friendsview, Newberg, OR

Background: Why Did We Create this Toolkit?

In 2016, Generations United (GU) and the Leading Age LTSS Center @UMass Boston received funding from The Retirement Research Foundation (RRF) to explore the range and nature of intergenerational programming within senior housing.Findings from that research suggested that there is a growing interest among housing providers in using intergenerational programming as a vehicle for dispelling negative age-related stereotypes, preparing a future workforce for the field of aging services, and improving the well-being of both older adults and youth.

A resident from a Lutheran Senior Services community, Hylton Point II,in St. Louis meets with a student from the St. Louis College of Pharmacy as part of an intergenerational workforce development partnership

During the second phase of their research, conducted in 2017 with continued support from RRF, Generations United and the LTSS Center worked with staff and leaders of senior housing organizations to implement intergenerational pilot projects and develop this toolkit. The information and tools developed during the project are designed specifically for professionals in the housing setting and the broader community who might be interested in starting or strengthening an intergenerational program.

The ultimate goal of this ongoing work is to ensure that intergenerational programming becomes part of every housing community in the nation, andthat housing-based staff become part of a network of professionals who can support and encourage one another in planning and implementing activities that connect older residents to people of all ages in their communities.

In Practice: How to Use This Toolkit

This toolkit was designed specifically to help senior housing organizations plan and implement high-quality intergenerational programs that will benefit residents and young people in their communities. A range of organizations interested in planning and implementing intergenerational programs and activities will also find the toolkit useful.

There are many ways to take an intergenerational approach to programming. The materials contained in the following pages can help you begin developing your program and/or give you tips on deepening or expanding your intergenerational work.

The toolkit features:

Tools to help you get started, including:

  • Organizational assessment questions.
  • Survey templates to assess resident interests.

Tools to help you design a high-quality program, including:

  • Concrete planning and implementation strategies and tips.
  • Ideas for both short and long-term activities.
  • Examples of promising practices.

Tools to help you decide if your program is fulfilling its goals, including:

  • Evaluation tools to better understand your program’s impact.