Next Avenue Logo

Intergenerational Care Models Are Having Impact

Intergenerational connections may be one solution for loneliness, so here are four innovative sites across the country putting that concept into practice

By Sophie Okolo

The last several years have seen a rise in intergenerational programs around the U.S. These include various initiatives like telephone visits, befriending services, digital buddy interventions and live-in student programs in aged care facilities.

A group of people of all ages sitting together at a table.Next Avenue
Gentog brings older adults and children together and provides interactive music, seated exercise and quality time every day.   |  Credit: Gentog

Intergenerational housing and unique care models are on the rise, offering a greater sense of connection, increased purpose and more learning opportunities. Evidence also shows that these environments can help fight against loneliness, a significant issue that has worsened since the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Loneliness shows no sign of slowing down.

Even now, loneliness shows no signs of slowing down, and it's notably worse for those at a cumulative disadvantage. Creating a long-term program can help improve community well-being and resilience. 

New research published this year explores the impact and practicalities of implementing a live-intergenerational Program (LIP), that is, living onsite at a residential aged care facility.

The pilot study showed the positive effect of volunteering on health outcomes among older adults, like promoting residents' wellness and approach to aging well — two factors that contribute to improving overall health.

More importantly, the study highlighted the potential for new dimensions to person-centered care because, ultimately, LIPs result in mutual benefits for both generations, including frequent interaction and engagement. "I gained more perspective on life and death and how important it is to have community at any age," said Lydia Jordan, nursing home volunteer and clinical social worker.

Creating a long-term program can help improve community well-being and resilience. 

Moreover, intergenerational relationships are one of the most effective and powerful ways to tackle ageism and foster greater trust and vulnerability across all ages and life stages, said Dr. Jean Accius, President and Chief Executive Officer at CHC: Creating Healthier Communities

"Whether it's kindergarteners visiting nursing homes, older men and women volunteering at the local elementary school library or older and young adults playing video games together, the opportunity for different generations to engage has shown evidence in reducing prejudice and negative stereotypes," said Accius, a Next Avenue Influencer in Aging.

Below are four existing innovations in intergenerational care. They include approaches to early childhood, career and college, and volunteering. 


1. Intergenerational Children's Center at Bayview

Bayview is a Seattle retirement community offering a full spectrum of health services to support changing needs throughout life. The retirement community also has a care resource for children in its daycare center, and through their daily interactions, the center promotes intergenerational relationships as an essential part of life. 

Just as the healthy bond between grandparents and grandchildren can help improve their emotional and mental health, the children and the residents at Bayview create meaningful connections, which helps to foster positive attitudes and understanding towards older adults and people with disabilities. 

2. Nesterly

Studies have shown that this generation and others will live very long lives. But where and how well is the question because America already has an affordable housing crisis. Not only is an aging population expected to strain housing, but access to safe and secure housing options can be challenging, especially as people age. 

Nesterly wants to make housing more affordable. They do this by helping create a mutually beneficial connection across generations, cultures and different lived experiences. In fact, one of their supporters, American surgeon, writer and public health researcher Atul Gawande once said that he loves Nesterly's startup idea of pairing young adults and older empty nesters. 

"Each contributes to each other's lives and learns as much about themselves as they do about the others." 

This is a unique concept, and their efforts can further improve healthy longevity. Loneliness, for instance, is linked to poor physical and mental health, so tackling it through intergenerational activities can help support mental health and well-being. 

new study showed that fostering engagement can promote their confidence, self-esteem and re-engagement in social activities. More programs like Nesterly are needed, especially since young professionals often look for affordable living arrangements around the U.S. 

It is enriching having these two generations, each with rich stories and experiences, living in the same community, said Katherine Wells, CEO of Serenity and Chief Inspiration Maverick at Mavericks of Senior Living. "Each contributes to each other's lives and learns as much about themselves as they do about the others." 

3. Intergenerational Learning Center (ILC) at Providence Mount St. Vincent

This award-winning childcare program first made headlines in 2014 because of the unique and innovative concept of a daycare center within its older adult residencies. 

According to the website, both generations engage in planned and spontaneous activities and events like music, dancing, art, lunch, storytelling or visiting. 

The ILC also participates in The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), a federal program that provides reimbursements for nutritious meals and snacks to participating childcare centers.

4. Gentog Daycare for Generations Together

"As an intergenerational daycare for older adults and children, Gentog provides an alternative to in-home care. Most daycare or day centers focus on one generation, but Gentog brings them together and provides interactive music, seated exercise and quality time every day. 

They also cater to those experiencing memory loss, and studies have shown how this intergenerational programming also benefits this unique population.

For instance, researchers found two emerging themes this year. The first, community of care, indicated how everyone, from care partners to organizational support, is critical to make an intergenerational program sustainable. 

"We need to make sure we design our systems and communities around making sure people have space to have healthy lifestyles."

"We need to make sure we design our systems and communities around making sure people have space to have healthy lifestyles," said Kayse Lee Maass, an industrial engineering professor who leads the Operations Research and Social Justice lab at Northeastern University. 

Volunteering was shown to promote opportunities for engagement when staff were less available. The second, a collective based on belonging and shared doing, highlighted a program's potential impact and uncovered the development of a collective based on shared belonging. Ultimately, Gentog provides a unique respite opportunity for families and caregivers in their community.

The Significance of Social Connections

It is well-known that residents in residential aged care facilities (RACFs) have reduced access to and opportunities for participation in meaningful activities. This can lead to increased social isolation and disengagement, which is worse for residents with dementia and other cognitive impairments. 

Early identification and a better understanding of what causes loneliness are critical in overcoming these issues. Since innovative intergenerational housing is still rising, raising awareness of their presence, offerings and learnings is especially helpful for individuals and communities looking for unique ways to age in place. 

Intergenerational connections may not be the only solution for loneliness, but the evidence is vital: they not only help improve quality of life, but also help reduce the harmful effects of ageism on an individual, local and societal level.

Sophie Okolo is a Forbes Contributor, Columbia University Age Boom Academy Fellow, and TEDMED Research Scholar. She is the founder and host of Global Health Aging, a creative consultancy and award-nominated resource featuring diverse opinions, news stories, and innovative research about longevity and healthy aging. Read More
Next Avenue LogoMeeting the needs and unleashing the potential of older Americans through media
©2024 Next AvenuePrivacy PolicyTerms of Use
A nonprofit journalism website produced by:
TPT Logo