Wellness Corner: Intergenerational activities aren’t just fun, they’re good for you

Presbyterian Manors of Mid-America communities regularly feature activities involving young people. Whether it’s a youth choir performance and visit, an ongoing program with a local school or regular activities with the on-campus preschool, these pairings of the young and the old are not by happenstance: there are bonafide benefits for the kids, the elders and the community. For seniors, the positive effects include health benefits.

Generations United is a national group promoting intergenerational relationships. It lists the following among many benefits to older adults who regularly volunteer with children:

Improved health – Older adults working with children are more active. They have fewer falls than others their age, are less reliant on canes and performed better on memory tests. It’s not surprising that they burn more calories, too, up to 20 percent more than their peers, according to an article in the Journal of Urban Health.

Enhanced socialization – The oft-cited MacArthur Foundation Study on Aging in America shows us that human beings are not meant to live solitary lives. This study links social relationships to longevity. Social relationships foster support, and this connectedness, as we grow older, is critical to our wellness. Social interaction protects the brain. Conversation and emotion stimulate a greater biological response in the brain than other activities. It reduces stress, too.

Emotional support – An intergenerational program can improve health indicators, according to the “Successful Aging” gerontology textbook by T.A. Glass. The MacArthur study also found that emotional social support led to better language, abstract thought, spatial ability and recall assessments.

Lifelong learning – Just because you’re an older adult doesn’t mean that you can’t learn something new! PMMA’s experts know our residents want to continue using the skills and knowledge earned through a lifetime of experience – and that it’s important to keep the mind active by learning new things. We learn from the younger generation as much as the youngsters learn from us.

Intergenerational activities benefit the children, too. These positive effects include better school performance (especially reading), enhanced social skills, fewer negative behaviors and increased stability through a more positive outlook toward civic responsibilities, desire to volunteer and a greater sense of trust. Children at a shared site, such as Newton Presbyterian Manor’s Apple-a-Day Preschool, have been shown to have more advanced personal and social development compared to children in other settings. Each preschool class has its own grandparent volunteer. The preschool children have regularly scheduled activities with residents of the manor.

The broader community benefits from intergenerational programs, too. Generations United says these activities “promote the transmission of cultural traditions and values from older to younger generations, helping to build a sense of personal and societal identity while encouraging tolerance.” This is seen every year at Manor of the Plains in Dodge City, Kan., through the Newcomer Group, which pairs children of first-generation American citizens with manor residents. Their teacher said, “My Newcomer students feel loved and accepted by their older friends, and I think that helps them feel more connected to our town and country.”

Intergenerational activities are therefore win-win-win:

  • Children receive wisdom and learn traditions.
  • Elders expand their social networks and are more physically active, leading to better health.
  • Communities benefit from engaged citizens who feel included.