The way senior citizens are treated in America does not do justice to their experience or what they have given to us through their lifetime. I see it with the senior I used to work with and I see it with my own grandmother: as people age, they become more and more removed from the life they once had. As a fact of life, their bodies begin to fail them and they regularly attend funerals of friends and family, suffering isolation as a result. In 2014, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 28% of people over age 65 live alone. Isolation has been linked to poor mental and physical health1, increased cognitive decline2, and depression3. However, there is hope and it is growing.
The Intergenerational Learning Center at Providence Mount St. Vincent Retirement Home brings new life to the old by mixing them with the young. The facility has built a preschool inside the retirement home where children from six weeks to five years old interact with residents whose average age is 92.
Five day a week the old and young alike share story time and art classes, and occasionally make sandwiches for the homeless. As Charlene Boyd, Center Administrator, says,
The kids learn from folks who have a wealth of experience and both parties are greatly valued in the process. Activities coordinator, Eileen McClosky, at the West Seattle program says it well, “You just step back and let this magic happen… It’s textbook — that’s exactly why we have this program, and it’s happening right here.”
Hopefully this trend is on the rise. As a mother of young children, I only wish this sort of program would be available in my area. Intergenerational learning mimics the way life is supposed to be lived: everyone living together—young and old. Our modern world promises to be more connected through social media but we loose so much in the process. Our interactions get less personal, families regularly move away from each other and our world is more transient then ever. Isolation of seniors is just one of many consequences of the way we live today and it will affect us all one day—if it doesn’t already. Providence Mount St. Vincent proves that it doesn’t have to be that way.
A Kickstarter campaign was recently, and rapidly, funded to create a documentary about the Intergenerational Learning Program at Providence Mount St Vincent. Here is the trailer:
1 Cornwell, E.Y., and L.J. Waite (2009), Social disconnectedness, perceived isolation, and health among older adults. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 50(1): 31-48.
2 Cacioppo, J.T., and L.C. Hawkley (2009), Perceived social isolation and cognition. Trends in Cognitive Science, 13(10): 447-454.
3 Cacioppo J.T., M.E. Hughes, L.J. Waite, and L.C. Hawkley, R.A. Thisted (2006), Loneliness as a specific risk factor for depressive symptoms: cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses. Psychology and Aging, 21(1): 140-151.