Think back to the times when your kids were young. You would be out somewhere with them and they would see an older adult who had a cane, on oxygen, or in a wheelchair. They might have asked, very loudly, questions like, “What’s wrong with him?” “Why is he walking so funny?” or “What is that in their nose?” “What are they sitting in?” Perhaps, slightly mortified, you would shush them. However, you realized they were never really around many older adults, so they did not understand. We live in a society now, where many children are not living in the same area as their grandparents or great-grandparents.

Picture this, older adults and children together in a care center. It is called intergenerational care. It is implemented in a variety of ways. Centers can operate as an adult day care, as well as a day care for children and or for youth. The care centers then have combined activities throughout the day, but also still maintain a separate space for the older adults and children. Yes, they both might need care, but if implemented correctly, the older adults will not feel patronized. It provides the opportunity for older adults to impart their wisdom and understanding to young kids. The older adults can feel useful and have a purpose, as they interact and help the kids at the care center. Then you know the idiom, “kids say the darndest things.” Children bring so much joy and laughter, which has numerous physical, mental and emotional advantages for the older adults involved. It is mutually beneficial. It gives kids exposure to new things and experiences, and with it comes new levels of maturity and growth.

Loneliness and isolation is an immense problem among the older adult population. Researchers from the University of California San Francisco, surprisingly found that older adults do not have to be living alone to feel lonely. Their study found that 43% of older adults felt lonely. However, only 18% of them lived alone. The researchers went on to find that people who identified as lonely have a 59% greater risk of decline and 45% greater risk of death. (1) Intergenerational care can be the perfect solution to combat the loneliness that so many older adults experience.

Generations United, an advocacy group for intergenerational programming and care, recently released a report. The report states that 94% of those surveyed, agree that older adults have skills and talents that can help address a child’s/youth’s needs. It goes on to state that nearly two-thirds of the survey participants thought that senior centers, schools and universities should create spaces for older adults and children to interact. Furthermore, 89% believed that serving older adults and children at the same location was a good use of resources. (2)

What Does Intergenerational Care and Programming Look Like?

The activities can include things such as: music and singing, arts and crafts, food preparation and cooking, a variety of games, helping with kids’ school work, yoga or tai-chi classes, nature walks and gardening. A lot of these activities are a great way for older adults to get physical exercise that has a purpose. They are actively engaging with the children in a variety of ways. It is much different, than just sitting all alone in a room trying to motivate yourself to do some form of physical exercise. We have all been there, right? Of course, if any of the older adults cannot physically do some of these activities, modifications can be made to ensure they are included in the activities that they can do.

The children learn invaluable skills when interacting with older adults. For instance, it teaches kids empathy and understanding of various circumstances, which is so monumental in helping with their growth and development. Keith Liederman, the CEO of a shared site adult day care center and Head Start programming in Louisiana, stated, “I get calls from teachers after our kids graduate and go on to grade school. They say our kids are the most compassionate, empathetic and accepting children, who don’t think twice about being friends with kids with disabilities.” (2) It also changes the way they view and interact with older adults. It breaks down those ageism attitudes that, unfortunately, still exist in our culture today.

It does wonders for the older adults too. The kids do not see them as their chronic disease, such as Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s. They just see them as any other person they can have fun and play pretend with. It has been a long time since many of us have used our imaginations! Most importantly, they develop a sense of purpose. It gets the older adults out of isolation, and focusing on new things and experiences. They get the opportunity to learn as well, and use areas of their brain they may have not used in a while. They develop meaningful relationships with the kids with whom they interact. The kids, in turn, also benefit greatly with the attention, wisdom and stability older adults provide. Intergenerational care and programming can have such a profound impact on all those involved.

Safety Precautions

Many of the care centers institute wellness checks. Every child is checked to ensure they are feeling well, prior to interacting with the older adults. It is ideal for the care center to still have separate areas/buildings for both the older adults and the children, so they can have some reprieve and still engage with one another. Also, children are never left alone with just the older adult who is participating. There is care center staff present.

It is important to point out though, that not all Intergenerational care centers and programming are created equal. Unfortunately, some if not organized properly, end up infantilizing older adults, and may not include some of the best practices that have been mentioned.

Intergenerational care and programming can take on many forms. It might be a long term care facility next to a child day care center or a school. Then the children can go over to the long term care facility to participate in activities. Or as mentioned earlier, it can be a combined adult day care and children’s day care. There are residential communities for older adults who have child care on their campus. Then there is also intergenerational programming that is not in a care setting, such as older adults being brought into classrooms to help out in a variety of ways.

According to Generations United, there are about 105 shared spaces of older adults and children in the U.S. today. (2) Intergenerational Care is such a beautiful example of diversity and inclusivity. Embracing the challenges and each other’s differences, learning from one another and then growing as a result from it, isn’t that what life is all about?

If you are interested in finding out if there is an Intergenerational care facility or programming in your area, please contact Denver Senior Care. They would be happy to help you out! It would be a great way to give your older loved one a new and meaningful experience, and you a much deserved break.


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