SILVER SPRING, Md. – When 5-year-old Amare Smith comes home from day care, he tells his parents stories about his “elder friends” instead of his classmates. These friends are old enough to be Amare’s grandparents, and some have Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.
Amare attends the Easter Seals’ Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Intergenerational Center in Silver Spring, which houses an adult day center and a child development center in the same building. Three days a week, the elders and the kids take part in joint activities such as singalongs, yoga and reading.
In a panel discussion about policy implications for an aging population Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington, experts stressed the need for creative solutions that reward caregivers of retirees who are financially insecure and dependent on their families.
Arianna Huffington, a panel member and editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post Media Group, alluded to intergenerational sites.
“We have an old-age crisis and a child care crisis. How about we put supply and demand together?” she said. “You know, we have grandparents lonely in institutions, and we have children desperate for some grownup to take care of them – so how do we make this connection?”
Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, an advocacy organization for intergenerational shared sites, said spending time with children on a regular basis gives older people a chance to contribute to their community even after retirement. Older adults in such programs reported feeling more optimistic, less depressed and relied less on canes.
“They take better care of themselves because they’re needed and they want to see the kids they’re involved with,” Butts said.
As the country's baby boomer generation reaches retirement with better health and longevity than earlier generations, older adults can find themselves at home with more energy than activities.
“The fact is when you get older and you start to age, the amount of experiences that you have – sights, sounds, interactions – starts to reduce,” said Reuben Rosenfeld, the Weinberg center’s director of adult and senior services. “When I bring kids in here, I’m bringing sights, sounds, enthusiasm and music that they would ordinarily not hear.”
In a 2003 study of intergenerational activities involving elders with dementia, published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, researchers found that subjects who did not participate in intergenerational programs were more withdrawn and passive.
A 2005 study in northwest Ohio’s Hancock County, published in Childhood Education, found that preschool children who interacted with seniors for a year achieved higher developmental scores than their control group counterpart.
One of Amare’s “elder friends,” Juanita Martin, said spending time around the children keeps her on her toes.
“They keep you laughing, I can tell you that,” she said. “It keeps your mind going.”
Amare’s father, Matt Smith, 50, a manager at Land O’Lakes, said his experience with the intergenerational center was so positive, he recommended it to his cousin.
“It’s good for the kids and adults to share experiences,” Smith said. “He helps them to have a richer life and they help him share in their experience.”
Since the day care center opened in 2008, its slots have remained full. The center introduced adult day services a year and a half later, but the majority of the demand remains for child care.
“When you have opportunities for the generations to be on the same side of the street instead of on opposite sidewalks, they have more of an opportunity to naturally intermingle,” Butts said.
Reach reporter Pninit Danielle Cohen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-326-9868
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