As our world evolves and families live miles apart, it seems that young and old are not brought together as frequently as in prior generations.
Today’s millennials are vastly different than their grandparents. They are largely removed from institutions, according to a recent Pew Research report, including families.
In many cases, their parents both worked outside the home.
More millennials are college educated than their grandparents and 68% are not married compared to their grandparents at the same age.
In fact, the traditional family unit has changed, with single parent households, divorce, and co-habitation changing the face of the family.
In the 1970s, 40% of typical families had four children. Currently, families average two children and the number of one child families has doubled. In addition, parents are more likely to be older when they start having families.
How has this affected the grandparent-grandchild dynamic or old-young connectivity?
In light of the changing family structure, how are grandparents changing?
Will the change in how grandparents connect with grandchildren impact how young and old interact?
Pew research says:
- 83% of seniors 65 and over have grandchildren. Because life expectancy has increased, seniors have the opportunity to be grandparents.
- Increasing numbers of grandparents are living with grandchildren. Greater numbers of those living together are ethnically diverse according to Pew. In fact, 5% of seniors are raising their grandchildren.
- 3 out of 4 grandparents said they help with child care occasionally.
- Older adults state a benefit of aging is getting time to spend with grandkids.
Connecting with Elders
Are we keeping the connections between young people and our older adults strong?
As more older adults age in place and live farther from their families, are we connecting young and old enough to benefit both generations?
Technology is bridging the generation gap and providing ways for older and younger people to stay in touch.
They are using smartphones, tablets, and the internet more often to make ‘face to face’ connections but still largely rely on simple phone calls.
Social media, email, and text messaging are ways seniors and young people are beginning to connect more often. Skype and FaceTime bring the virtual visit to life for seniors and grandchildren allowing them to communicate frequently, no matter the busy schedule or distance of today’s families.
According to a Pew study, in the US:
- 1 in 5 grandparents communicate with their grandchildren daily
- 41% are in touch weekly
- 19% communicate with their grandchildren once a month
- 19% communicate less often or never
Caregivers can help seniors stay engaged with the extended family especially the younger generation by enabling the use of technology innovations by providing, teaching, and encouraging their use.
New Ways to Bring Generations Together
In addition to our family connections, seniors without extended families – the so-called ‘elder orphans’ need our help to connect with the younger generation as well as all seniors living in long term care facilities.
The Eden Alternative, started in 1991 by Dr. Bill Thomas, brings home-like structure to elder facilities and creates person-centered interventions for seniors in long term care. One of their goals is to find ways to bring kids into nursing homes as they believe life revolves around continuing contact with plants, animals, and children.
The Pioneer Network, formed in 1997, has been working to change long term care of our senior adults by changing the culture of facilities to bring home and community to seniors instead of institutionalism.
Involving more aspects of the traditional home and less of sterile facilities includes bringing younger people to support older adults as part of the daily structure.
Seniors with University Students
A newer approach to bring young and old out of their silos to come together for mutually beneficial interactions is occurring in a Dutch nursing home who has started a program involving college students.
This program gives rent free living to university students in exchange for 30 hours a month of interaction with the seniors living in the home. Twenty-somethings living with eighty-somethings has led to some interesting results.
One of the requirements of this shared living arrangement is that the students become teachers to the elders about technology. They are teaching the seniors to use technology for email, social media, Skype and other applications that are beneficial to the seniors.
In addition to giving the seniors new skills, the students are preventing loneliness for seniors disconnected from the larger world.
By overcoming loneliness and isolation in institutionalized seniors, the hope is that becoming engaged not just with the students but the world through the use of technology can improve the quality of life, well-being and even life expectancy of these elders.
Linking Generations Through Literature
Another program designed to bring the generations together is the Care Homes Reading Project, which brings student volunteers together with institutionalized seniors over literature. Students read poetry, short stories and other forms of literature to seniors including those with dementia.
In those with dementia, they have found that the rhythm of the stories and poetry has evoked memories and sharing, not only with the students but also family members. Elders gain back their sense of self connecting their past with their present according to researchers.
The seniors seem to get energized by the youthful spirit of the students which spills over into other aspects of their day to day life in the home.
The goal is to improve quality of life of the seniors through communication. It isn’t just about reading but also the chatting and connections that are built between the student volunteers and the seniors.
A shared love of literature, differing viewpoints about the stories and even learning about the seniors’ life experiences, bridges the disconnect of generations according to the students involved.
An added benefit to the home is time spent with the students relieves the staff to handle other care needs.
Engaging Produces Benefits for All
Programs such as this one build not only the well-being of the elders and the students but also the larger community. Learning from each other and becoming one through shared interests is building a stronger community for the long-term.
Connecting young people and seniors doesn’t just benefit the senior, whether it is through programs such as this live-in arrangement but also connecting through nursing home programs, child care arrangements, and other means of increased communication, also benefits the younger persons.
This sets up a lifelong interest in helping others as well as an understanding, rather than fear, of aging and older adults.
Intergenerational connection, whether organized or organic, is vital to both young and old.
Hopefully we can reduce isolation and loneliness, bring understanding, break stereotypes and foster respect when we facilitate the engagement between young people and seniors.