7 ways intergenerational connections promote seniors’ health

Excerpt: Intergenerational programs that foster stronger connections between seniors and younger generations offer a wide range of cognitive, emotional, and physical health benefits for older adults. Studies show that intergenerational connections lift mood, sharpen mind and memory, and reduce social isolation. Active participation in intergenerational programs also boosts health, improves self-esteem, and helps older adults find meaning and purpose.

June 1 is Intergenerational Day in Canada.* This special day was launched in 2010 to celebrate the richness of intergenerational relationships and to encourage connections between older adults and younger generations.

Intergenerational programs—such as seniors teaching children to grow vegetables in a community garden, young people providing computer support for older adults, and university cohabitation programs that connect students with older adults who have living space available—offer a wide range of mental, emotional, and physical health benefits for older adults,* advises McMaster University. Children, teens, and young adults involved in intergenerational programs also gain significant cognitive, emotional, social and physical benefits through their interactions with older adults,* according to Generations United.

Here are some of the benefits that result when older adults and younger generations connect:

  1. Lift mood and ease depression. Active, involved older adults with close intergenerational connections consistently report much less depression,* according to the Toronto-based Legacy Project. Spending quality time with grandchildren while they are children and sharing more bonding moments lowers the risk of depression among grandparents, reported a Journal of the American Gerontological Society study.
  2. Sharpen mind and memory. Social engagement through intergenerational programs is associated with improved thinking and memory, and may protect against age-related decline in the hippocampus,* a brain area involved in memory, reported an International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry study.
  3. Decrease social isolation. Older adults who feel socially isolated are at risk of negative health outcomes,* according to George Washington University. An intergenerational social engagement program, in which high school students visited seniors in a retirement living community, reduced social isolation in older adults.* Research also shows older volunteers in intergenerational programs report more social support, sense of connectedness and community.*
  4. Boost physical health. Older adults who participate in intergenerational programs have fewer falls, reduced frailty, increased strength, balance, and mobility.* Seniors who regularly tutored students in urban public schools through the Experience Corps program improved their mobility, stamina, and flexibility, and maintained good overall health longer,* reported Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
  5. Increase self-esteem. Studies of older adults who participate in intergenerational educational, arts and crafts, information technology and cultural heritage programs show improvements in their self-esteem and greater satisfaction with life.*
  6. Find meaning and purpose. When older adults volunteer to work with children, it cultivates a sense of meaning and purpose,* according to a Stanford University study.
  7. Be happier. Older adults who had stronger connections with younger generations were three times as likely to be happy,* reported a Harvard University study.