Probably almost everyone has noted the special kind of relationship between toddlers and seniors, and recognized that it’s one which benefits both parties. Private duty care workers have seen these kinds of relationships at work in many situations, and are well aware of the affinity which develops between the two individuals, generations apart. In Arlington and elsewhere around the country, there is a growing segregation between the generations, with seniors often living several states distant from their adult children, and often relegated to home care facilities where they can receive whatever kind of attention they need. A growing body of evidence suggests that it may be a better idea to ensure that the generations of a family at least have regular contact with each other, so that both may receive the benefits of that regular contact.
Why seniors and toddlers mesh so well
According to a study conducted by the University of California at San Francisco, at least 43% of all seniors in this country feel somewhat alienated and lonely in their living circumstances. The same study associated that loneliness with a 60% higher risk of poor health, as well as a 45% increase in the risk of death. The bottom line on the survey results indicates that the loneliness suffered by senior citizens in this country is not just an inconvenience, it’s a certified health hazard.
Toddlers, of course, are too young to understand loneliness, but there is definitely something missing from the life of a toddler when they have no elderly people nearby. Not only can older family members pass on a good deal of knowledge to youngsters, but they also have the time available to interact with toddlers.
Since most older people have lots of free time, they don’t mind spending a lot of that free time with young children, and this can be very stimulating to the youngsters because their parents or other adults simply don’t have time to spend a significant part of their day with them. Older adults actually need this kind of interaction with others, and the toddlers also benefit from it, because older individuals are willing to spend significant time with them.
A number of daycare centers in this country have recognized the special kind of relationship that can develop between toddlers and seniors, and have sought to institutionalize it for the benefit of both. The process has been dubbed ‘inter-generational care‘, and a number of facilities are already experimenting with its administration.
One such facility, the Mount Inter-generational Learning Center is located in the greater Seattle area and consists of a pre-school within an actual nursing home. Each day, children and seniors get together to do various activities such as drawing, painting, or music-making. Seniors from the nursing home are happy to interact with the youngsters, and the children are just as happy to receive that kind of attention and to take on interesting activities with their older adult partners.
To this point, the center has proved a tremendous success, and it now has more than 400 children who are on a waiting list to become involved in the program. A group which encourages such inter-generational programs, known as Generations United, declares that there are at least 105 inter-generational centers like this which bring together toddlers and senior citizens in this country for their mutual benefit.
There is tremendous support for these types of facilities, with 94% of surveyed Americans believing that seniors can be extremely helpful to their youthful counterparts, while 90% consider that youngsters bring just as much value to their senior counterparts. Almost 90% of all Americans believe that bringing together these two groups in a shared center constitutes an effective and worthwhile use of resources.
The same survey which yielded these results has shown that almost 75% of Americans believe that centers which serve these different age groups separately prevent the two groups from enjoying the benefits they might otherwise have provided for each other.
Benefits of inter-generational centers
A report which has been prepared on the effectiveness of inter-generational centers contains extensive evidence that both young and old participants in such centers have benefited greatly. Parents of youngsters have found that their pre-school aged youngsters are often far more empathetic than are others their age and they often have increased cognitive skills, advanced motor skills, and higher developmental scores. Additionally, parents have discovered that youngsters in such programs often have greater emotional and social competencies than do youngsters who don’t participate in inter-generational programs.
On the other hand, seniors involved in such programs were found to have a decreased incidence of loneliness, significantly less agitation and stress, and overall improved health status, when compared to non-participating seniors. These results make it clear that both parties can significantly benefit by interacting with each other in formalized programs where they spend time together. Even while the lifestyles of modern Americans dictate that generations are often further apart, it seems very worthwhile to bring together young and old, so that both can benefit from their interactions.