Being connected with each other and our communities has never been more important. In recent times there’s been growing momentum and interest in bringing older people and younger people together to socialise, share and learn from each other through intergenerational programs.
The recent ABC series Old People’s Home really brought this concept into the spotlight, highlighting vast health, social and emotional benefits of intergenerational programs for older and younger people alike.
When I spoke to older Victorians to develop the ‘Ageing well in a changing world’ , people shared their interest and enthusiasm for intergenerational and cross-generational activities. One of the eight attributes of ageing well identified in the report - ‘Respected and respectful’ - highlights the importance of building relationships across the ages to enhance understanding and challenge perceptions of ageing.
Older Victorians want to create meaningful connections, share their life experiences and assist with activities like reading, homework, mentoring, singing and more. They want their capability and contributions to be recognised, and they want to learn from younger people too. Older Victorians also want to connect with family, friends and society through shared interests, from books and the arts to hobbies, sports and issues like climate change.
For older participants, intergenerational programs can create valued relationships, build new skills, improve or maintain health mobility, and contribute to a sense of self-worth, purpose and belonging. Younger participants – especially children – participating in intergenerational programs often build their language, empathy and social skills, and gain greater awareness and understanding of older generations. For adults, there is the exciting opportunity to engage with both younger and older generations.
There’s growing research and initiatives exploring the benefits of intergenerational engagement. Late last year, I had the chance to join in an online intergenerational playgroup coordinated by . One of the strengths and most enjoyable aspects of this playgroup was the way it brought together three generations - residents from Mercy Place Ballarat aged care, young children and their parents, all dialling in from across the state.
It was a truly special occasion as we came together to celebrate group member Molly's 100th birthday! Group members sent cards and decorated their homes with balloons as they joined the online playgroup session. I was so moved to hear each of the children read out their own handwritten birthday message to Molly.
The online intergenerational playgroup re-created the in-person experience to bring together a wonderful cross-section of our society — from babies to people in their 90’s and above. I'm grateful to have seen first-hand just how magical the connections between group members are, and how important these connections have been to residents during these challenging times. More information about online intergenerational playgroups is available on Playgroup .
There are other fantastic initiatives too, like an intergenerational road safety school organised by the Lions Club , where older volunteers teach children about traffic awareness and provide road safety information, and aged care facilities with co-located childcare facilities like the Generations Early Learning Centre .
Children of school-age can also benefit greatly from intergenerational programs. For example, a University of South Australia ‘Forget me trialled an 8-week school-based intergenerational dementia program, which supported children in grade 4 and 5 to learn about dementia while interacting with other adults, some of whom have dementia. The researchers identified many benefits for children and older people who participated in the program; children significantly increased their dementia knowledge and attitudes, and improvements were observed in children’s communication, empathy, understanding and inclusivity. Older participants also enjoyed the interaction, felt engaged with community and that they were valued members of society.
New research from Respect Victoria and National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) is also exploring the prevention of elder abuse through intergenerational bonds.
Further intergenerational programs in Victoria could strengthen community connections, tackle social isolation and reduce loneliness for all generations – what a win-win for everyone.
Reviewed 19 July 2022