The Intergenerational Link

Bringing Seniors and Children Together is a Win-Win-Win!

Grandma Josephine Toone and Student Audrey Le

Grandma Josephine and Student

The symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s can be extremely isolating, especially when it is time to move a senior into a memory care facility. We must remember, however, that a senior with dementia still has much wisdom, joy, and love to share. Too often, caregivers fail to recognize that seniors can and want to contribute and connect. That is why at Sunshine Care, we have embraced intergenerational programming. We have found that bringing children and seniors together can be a wonderful and productive experience for both groups and even benefit the community. It’s a win-win-win!

What is an intergenerational relationship?

An intergenerational relationship is a meaningful relationship between any two generations. Here at Sunshine Care, our intergenerational programs often connect our seniors (usually ages 75+) with children and teens, from kindergartners to high schoolers.

One important distinction to make is that a true intergenerational relationship includes active participation by both groups. This isn’t the case of a Girl Scout group singing carols in front of seniors. Instead, our programs encourage children and seniors to talk, listen, build a project together, and create a deep connection.

Why seniors need intergenerational relationships

It is easy for seniors with dementia or Alzheimer’s to feel as if they are merely unwell individuals who need constant care. It is also easy for them to lose touch with the outside world when they are surrounded only by those in their own generation.

Doing activities, like gardening, with children helps seniors re-connect to the outside world and to the youngest generation. We’ve found that seniors tend to be more active when they spend time with energetic, spunky kids. Doing a project together also gives seniors purpose and allows them to share their experience and wisdom with a new friend.

At Sunshine Care, we always thank our seniors for volunteering with the children we bring to the facility. These words make our seniors feel important and useful!

Why children need intergenerational relationships

Our intergenerational program isn’t just for the benefit of our seniors. We also believe that the children who connect with them come away with more patience, more empathy, and a deeper understanding and respect for the past.

In this day and age, children and teens often get trapped within their fast-paced technology. Life is about constant updates from friends and short, 160-character conversations. Working with seniors forces children to slow down and to really listen. Seniors have many amazing stories to tell, and when a child is willing, he or she can learn amazing things about the past and see how much life has changed over the decades.

When we invite Girl Scout groups, Boy Scouts, school children, and more to our care facility, we always thank the children for taking their time to brighten a senior’s day and for using their listening skills to make a senior feel important. Children take great pride in volunteering and making friends with a senior.

Our Intergenerational Programming

At Sunshine Care, we offer a wide variety of intergenerational programs. In many cases, the programs we design have a civic aspect. For instance, one of our most popular intergenerational programs is our Garden Club. During this one and one half hour event, seniors and children work in the garden together. First they plant the seeds, then care for the growing plants. Finally, it’s time to pick the delicious fruits and vegetables, which are often donated to local food kitchens. In this way, seniors can engage in a useful project while spending time with the bright happy faces of their new young friends. Children make new friends as well and get to see first-hand where food comes from. Both seniors and children feel special about growing food that will help feed the less fortunate.

We are also thrilled when the Boy Scouts drop on by to cook a pancake breakfast for our seniors and when the local high schoolers come over to teach our seniors ballroom dancing skills. One of our intergenerational highlights of the year is coming up! On May 2nd, we will be throwing our 5th annual State Fair right here at Sunshine Care. Our version of the fair is wheelchair friendly and includes pie eating contests, art displays, and even animals supplied by the local 4H Club.

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Fun with the animals at the annual State Fair.

Everyone gets such a thrill out of these programs, and they help our seniors stay active, engaged, and excited about the future.

We work hard to lead the way in intergenerational programming on the West Coast, and in 2012 we received the Generations United Best Intergenerational Communities Award. To learn more about our intergenerational program visit our Intergenerational Programs page. If you would like your children, students, Girl Scout troop, Boy Scout group, or other group to participate in our programming, please contact Lisa Lipsey at .

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