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Crossing the generation gap benefits both sides

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Crossing the generation gap benefits both sides

An intergenerational learning program sees non-adjacent generations get together, usually to undertake a project or activity. JUDY RAFFERTY discusses her recent experience crossing the divide to join a younger generation.

Non-adjacent generations, for example grandchildren and grandparents, have a generation or more in between them.

The opportunity for elders and children or young people to spend time together tends to be dependent on family.

Some families are in a situation where the so called non-adjacent generations spend quite a bit of time together. In an increasing number of families, it is the grandparents who are becoming the primary carers of their grandchildren.

There is a higher rate of depression and health problems among grandparents who are responsible for raising their grandchildren, but on the whole, contact between seniors and children has diminished markedly.

As a result, there are many children who have no contact with a senior person or elder.

The benefits of intergenerational interaction are multiple for both generations.

I recently visited an intergenerational program operating in a school and spoke with one of the senior participants.

Joanne has lived in a retirement community for five years. She delighted in telling me that, after eight weeks in the program, she is sure that her brain is working better than it has for a long time.

Research supports Joanne’s experience.

It also shows that senior participants in intergenerational programs can burn 20 per cent more calories each week, have fewer falls, better memory performance, reduced boredom and loneliness, and improved mood.

Importantly, the young people in the program experience significant benefits too. Research shows that these benefits can include improvements in literacy, behaviour and school attendance rates.

The young people are less likely to experience depression, significantly less likely to use illicit substances and more likely to communicate with, and trust, their parents.

Such benefits lead to healthier, happier individuals. But intergenerational programs also help build healthier, happier communities.

We are a culture that segregates by age. According to research there is a link between this segregation and lower life satisfaction for older people.

In addition, age segregation appears to have led to an increase in negative stereotyping – by older people of the young and by the young of older people.

Studies have found that intergenerational programs where two generations meet to work and play together, result in a reduction in negative age-related stereotyping in both generations.

Perhaps your local area has an intergenerational program operating.

If it does and you are an eligible elder, I would recommend considering asking to join or volunteering.

I think you might find yourself having more fun than expected with the playdoh!

Judy Rafferty  is the author of Retirement Your Way, A Practical Guide to Knowing What You Want and How to Get It, at all good bookshops and online.

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