Connecting Generations to Help Health & Wellbeing
Scottish charity, Generations Working Together, work specifically to help intergenerational projects across Scotland through training, advice or connections that bring younger and older people together
These intergenerational projects take place in various environments, including; schools, care homes, hospitals and sport centres. After the first one starting in Japan in the 1970s, these projects grow daily across the globe; this year alone there are many nursery/care home projects starting up in America, England and Scotland. As a charity, our goal is to bring people together while challenging ageism stereotypes to create a better and fairer country for all.
The results of these projects are often surprising to people because being a part of an
intergenerational project can help us feel safer, healthier and less lonely. In this article we will look
at 5 reasons why connecting generations improves health and wellbeing.
1) Taking part in the project increases mobility in older people
Although being part of a project is beneficial for both groups and can improve the levels of exercise
done by young people (just have a look at any of the videos from intergenerational sport days) it is the mobility of older people that feels the biggest benefit. In the recent Channel 4 documentary, “Older People’s
Home for 4 Year Olds”, we saw the extent to which the mobility of the elderly participants improved once they were matched with the young children, with all of them showing significant signs of improvement in just six weeks. As our population is predicted to get older and older over time, these results could well be part of the solution to keeping healthy in older life.
2) Loneliness is alleviated for both groups
Recently there has been a greater discussion on how to tackle loneliness, with projects such as The Campaign to End Loneliness publishing reports on how to identify it, as well as research showing that the UK is loneliest country in Europe. With this in mind, policy makers and charities are urgently looking for cost effective
solutions to tackle this, and supporting or starting an intergenerational project could be one of them. When we hear of projects from the older participants, they often remark that taking part has made them feel less
lonely. Recently I spoke to an older woman from a care home in Newbyres in Scotland, who told me
that when the weekly visits from the nursery children are always the highlight of her week as she would otherwise
get almost no company from anyone outside the care home.
3) Challenging ageism stereotypes helps build communities
So many parts of our everyday life are age segregated: older people are less likely to live in urban
centres, while younger people are unlikely to have any connection with older people out with their own families.
In many cases, both generations are suspicious of each other. At a recent meeting in Glasgow we
discussed community safety with older people and found that some felt too scared to go out alone
at night due to perceived dangers from younger generations. If we keep continuing this way the
tensions between generations will only increase and instead we should be looking at how to bring these
generations together within our communities. A greater feeling of safety for both generations makes our
communities a happier place to live and can also improve our psychological wellbeing. A fantastic example of his is Cycling Without Age Scotland, a project which took older people from local care homes on a bike ride along the Canal in Falkirk. This challenged stereotypes of generations and also helped older people to feel safer in their local area.
4) Connections and friendships are formed
There have been many studies which show that one of the major keys to happiness, especially in older age, is through and connections. Having a close relationship with friends or neighbours helps you recover quicker from things such as operations and depression, while increasing the chances of having a healthier life in older age. While many volunteer-based projects are short term, an intergenerational project often lasts longer and therefore allows participants to make stronger connections with others, helping to improve both communication skills and trust. One example is the Balhousie Link, a project in Perth that aimed to connect primary children and older people through a wide range of activities. The staff leading the project noticed that after the official activities were over many young participants continued visiting the care home because of the strong friendships they made, with some even bringing along Christmas presents.
5) Participants learn from projects and learning increases cognitive ability
One of the key goals of a project that brings older and younger people together is shared
learning. Often, older people can pass on skills that the young don’t have, such as gardening, while
younger generation can tell them about new changes in things such as in technology or education. The groups
can also take part in activities enjoyable for both, such as games or reading. All of these improve
communication skills, improve confidence and cognitive ability and this is a fantastic reason to encourage younger and older people to take part in intergenerational games, books and activities.
If you are interested in getting involved in an intergenerational project near you, please join one of
our local networks for free on the Generations Working Together website.
If you would like to learn about our goals, training or case studies please have a look on our website
For press enquires please contact Kate Samuels on firstname.lastname@example.org
Article by Kate Samuels, Generations Working Together.
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