The Missing Link in Battling Social Isolation Among Older Adults: Intergenerational Connections

Social isolation is harmful for our health. It has long posed a threat to older adults’ well-being in particular, and the COVID-19 era has only worsened the conditions that breed loneliness.

The pandemic hasn’t only kept seniors from connecting with the friends and families they used to see regularly. It’s prevented them – and just about everyone else – from meeting new people.

But meeting new people, especially new people of different ages, can be deeply enriching for adults who live in senior living communities. Intergenerational relationships can enhance seniors’ sense of purpose, engagement, and overall emotional health.

Here’s why intergenerational connections are so important for seniors’ well-being and how communities can better foster them.

Most Seniors Don’t Spend Time with People of Different Ages (Outside Their Families)

People tend to socialize almost exclusively within the same age group. That’s because most of our social structures group people by age, from school to the workplace to retirement communities. As a result, close intergenerational friendships aren’t something we see very often, particularly between the young and the old. 

The most common interaction between, for instance, Generation Z and Baby Boomers, is between grandparents and grandchildren, or other family figures. But the social spheres most of us inhabit don’t provide a lot of opportunities to meet people of different ages outside their family.

Social anxiety is high on the list of reasons seniors might be hesitant to make the transition to senior living. It can be overwhelming to leave your established social circle behind, and some seniors might fear they’ll lose the ability to engage with people outside their own age group. That’s where intergenerational friendships can help.

Intergenerational Relationships Are Mutually Beneficial

A report from the Stanford Center for Longevity details how intergenerational relationships can be fulfilling for both young and old people. In these kinds of friendships, both parties can…

  • Widen their perspectives 
  • Share wisdom and advice
  • Have an opportunity to share meaningful stories about their life

Frequent interaction with people outside of seniors’ usual group of friends and family can have a very positive impact on seniors’ mental health. One study found that people with these types of relationships were more likely to have…

  • Higher levels of physical activity 
  • Greater positive moods 
  • Fewer negative feelings

The increased likelihood of physical activity is likely due to the fact that before the pandemic, while seniors tended to stay at home when they see friends or family, they needed to venture out to socialize with people outside their immediate circle. Hopefully, seniors can enjoy this benefit against post-pandemic.

Senior Living Communities Can Promote Intergenerational Connection through Virtual and In-Person Programs

Senior living communities don’t need to wait for widespread vaccination to introduce intergenerational social initiatives. There are a number of ways to connect residents with younger people through virtual programs.

Senior living communities can look into the following remote-friendly resources to encourage intergenerational socializing, whether it’s through art, tutoring, or a simple coffee chat:

  • Big & Mini, started by students at University of Texas at Austin during the pandemic, connects young adults and seniors over video calls.
  • Sharing Smiles, also created as a response to the pandemic, enables intergenerational connections to share stories, poetries, and wortwork through email. 
  • The AARP Experience Corps is a volunteer-based tutoring programs for school-age children.
  • The Senior Corps is a US government agency that helps seniors find volunteer opportunities
  • Eldera is a mentorship program through which older adults can assist parents with home learning.
  • CIRKEL Up is a networking program for professionals seeking mentorship and skill building.

Once vaccines bring the safe return of in-person socializing, senior living leaders can also consider creating regular programs that bring younger people into their communities. Activities directors might invite local high school or college students to attend…

  • Weekly book clubs
  • One-on-one mentorship programs
  • Arts and crafts sessions
  • Group games

Make Intergenerational Connections Part of Your Holistic Wellness Strategy

COVID-19 has revealed the dangers of social isolation firsthand to many. As we look forward to life on the other side of the pandemic, senior living leaders start improving residents’ social well-being – and overall health – now with virtual programs that bring people of all ages together.

You can easily integrate intergenerational social programming with a tool like Caremerge’s Calendar Central, which helps senior living staff manage community programming at scale. Sign up for a demo to learn more about how our solutions can assist your social initiatives.

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