Bridging the Generation Gap: Programs For Both Young and Old

Wesley Homeshare website
  • Article by Amy Bradney-George
  • June 19, 2015 at 11:53 AM

The differences between generations have led to all kinds of divisions in people’s work and social lives but a growing number of people and programs are seeking to bridge generational gaps and the damage they can lead to.

Research has shown that isolation between generations can have a huge cost for communities and society as a whole. One study in the US has even mapped out generational divides to reveal that age can cause the same levels of segregation as race or ethnicity – and has just as much of an impact on people’s lives.

According to a report from the Boston Globe, a number of other studies have shown that isolation of different age groups can lead to negative stereotypes and ageism that ultimately leads to discord in the community and for society as a whole.

The executive director of Temple University’s Intergenerational Center, Nancy Henkin, tells the Boston Globe:

“If you don’t have places where people can connect, if you have institutions that are focused on different age groups…[the result can be]…negative stereotypes and people feeling isolated from each other.”

As more people become aware of the impact of ageism, and as populations around the world continue to find greater age gaps between the young and the old, a growing number of programs are being developed to connect different age groups.

Homesharing Programs

Homeshare programs have recently had a lot of media attention in Australia thanks, in part, to the growing housing crisis and an aging population. NSW organisation Youth Action is currently calling on the state’s government to develop a pilot program that would see young people offering car and companionship to older people in exchange for a place to live.

The organisation’s managing director, Katie Acheson, has told the ABC that there are both young people stressed about the high rental prices in Sydney, as well as “a whole bunch of older people and people living with a disability who are trying to stay at home for longer and wanting to stay out of care facilities”.

“Housing affordability in Sydney is just insane and young people just want any sort of option and are really willing to look at alternative models,” she says.

“It’s kind of crazy that it’s not in New South Wales [already] considering we have the highest youth population and the highest ageing population…and the highest rental stress in the country.”

The proposal draws on the success of the Wesley Homeshare program in Victoria, which has had state funding and support since 2009. In a report for the Homeshare Congress, Wesley Homeshare’s Beris Campbell says homeshare programs “provide a service that facilitates a range of positive outcomes for participants and the community”.

“A mature Homeshare program can be expected to provide cost savings of [around] $28,100 p.a. to the federal government through savings to residential care alone,” she notes.

“[There are] also many other benefits to the government and community, including: savings to the hospital system (reduced admissions and length of stay); savings to respite care; savings in rent for homesharers; and improved happiness and quality of life to participants and their families.”

Homeshare programs like Wesley’s are run all around the world, and actually began in the 1970s in America, where ageism activitist and Gray Panthers founder Maggie Kuhn set up her own homeshare program when she was forced into retirement on her 65th birthday.

Kuhn went on to found the Shared Housing Resource Center in America, and actively criticised conventional aged care facilities for their segregation from the rest of the community, calling them “glorified playpens”.

According to Homeshare International, the concept of homesharing for elderly and young people was then picked up in the UK in the late 80s, and gradually reached the rest of the world from there.

Despite this 40-plus year history, homeshare programs have only just come into the public and political eye in Australia, where they could provide a huge range of positive benefits for the whole population.

Children in aged care facilities

There is not a lot of scope for children and elderly people to interact outside of the family and, when it comes to aged care facilities, many of the residents have limited exposure to children.

According to filmmaker Evan Briggs, bringing children and residents of aged care facilities together helps reveal how people can bring value to others at any stage of their lives. Briggs ­– who is currently raising money to edit a documentary about a preschool set in a retirement home – says that environments where young and old people interact helps normalise the aging process and encourages people to keep an open mind about each other, regardless of generational divides.

“Stepping into most any nursing home, it’s hard to ignore the sense of isolation one feels on behalf of the residents living there, and even harder to reconcile that with the fact that old age will inevitably come for us all. In our fast-paced, youth-obsessed culture, we don’t want to be reminded of our own mortality. It’s easier to look away,” she writes.

“Over the course of the months I was filming at the [Providence Mount St. Vincent retirement home], I observed many incredible exchanges between residents and kids. Some were sweet, some awkward, some funny- all of them poignant and heartbreakingly real.”

News of the retirement home-cum-school has gone viral, with people on social media praising the innovative program and calling for similar facilities in their community.

It’s not just the Providence Mount St. Vincent retirement home that is running such programs either. In Massachusetts, for example, there is an elderly care facility called Hebrew SeniorLife that has built a school for kindergarten to grade 8 students, as well as Lasell Village – a senior housing community that’s built on the grounds of Lasell College.

Seniors living in the village are invited to lectures and events alongside students, giving them a chance to continue learning and giving students the opportunity to learn more in the process.

“Life at Lasell Village reflects the interests and imagination of Village residents. A focus on living and learning is the defining characteristic of Lasell Village, and one that makes it unique among retirement communities,” the website says.

“Although it is one of a growing number of college-affiliated retirement communities, it is the first to feature a formal, individualised and required continuing education program for residents.

Meanwhile, in Australia there are school programs for young people to visit residents at aged care facilities and perform or participate in workshops with them.

The Beaconsfield Upper Primary School in Victoria, for example, has a Community Cooking Program where students in grades 3 and 4 cook for residents of the Salisbury House Aged Care Facility on special occasions, such as Mothers Day. The school’s choir and band also visits residents once a term to perform for them.

Ashfield Baptist Homes in NSW, on the other hand, has developed a range of activities and facilities to encourage people in the greater community to visit and engage with residents.

The organisation’s two homes – Bethel Nursing Home and A H Orr Lodge – have facilities including a high-street-style café, swimming pool and education room, and hosts art exhibitions, live music and events that the public can attend.

All of these programs encourage people of different generations to spend time together and share their experiences, creating stronger relationships between people of all ages in the process. With both aged care and education becoming bigger and bigger political issues in Australia (and the world), it’s these kinds of projects and approaches that offer the greatest benefits for people in every stage of life.

Images: A screenshot from the Wesley Homeshare Services website; a screenshot from the Beaconsfield Upper Primary School Salisbury Aged Care Facility webpage.

BUPS aged care

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