Nurturing new relationships, and growing existing ones, is an incredibly important aspect of life that creates fulfillment and meaning in seniors’ lives.
As we move through different stages of life we come to learn and understand how valuable it is to forge connections with peers that are going through the same things we are at around the same time, because similarities often support an important level of understanding between individuals. For this reason, the vast majority of our friends and close relationships often end up being created within the bounds of our generation or within the same general age group as us. Groups that exist within our communities are often separated by age, but the truth is that there are a whole bunch of positive outcomes that can come from bringing people from different generations and age groups together to learn from one another and build strong, valuable, and fulfilling relationships beyond the boundaries of age or generation.
The old and the young have more in common than we might initially assume. Existing at either end of the life course both the elderly and youth live their lives largely outside of the realm of adulthood’s notion of ‘objective productivity’, the basis upon which modern societies in the western world assign so much value. The youngest and oldest members of our societies have the purest opportunity to engage and connect with the essence of being alive, valuing and appreciating each moment and all it has to offer in a special and unique way that separates both groups from the determinedly busy and stressful life of those in the in-between stage of ‘productive adulthood’.
Through the reciprocal nature of relationships, each age group provides in meaningful ways to supporting the others. The very foundation of communities depends upon intergenerational webs that connect everyone to each other, but we may not always remember or understand just how important caring for and encouraging intergenerational relationships can be for all age groups, including seniors.
Activities to Do Together
The building and cultivating of strong relationships takes place over time as feelings of connectedness grow deeper and individuals start to feel more comfortable and valued by one another. The following are some examples of possible activities that seniors can engage in with younger friends and family members that can help to foster the growth of deep, meaningful, and reciprocal intergenerational relationships:
- Cooking/Baking Together
- Learning to Use New Technology
- Playing Board Games or Cards
- Reading to One Another
- Sharing/Teaching Skills and Hobbies
- Talking About Heritage and History
- Talking About Meaningful Topics
- Writing Letters Back and Forth
Benefits Both Ways
Among the many valuable and unique aspects of intergenerational relationships is the fact that individuals in every stage of life can both give and get benefits from engaging in relationships that cross generational gaps. Seniors can help children or younger folks to build a better sense of who they are, provide better knowledge where they came from, help them to build social skills, make them feel valued, instill them with feelings of confidence, expose them to new skills, and improve their ability to better relate to older people. In a reciprocal way, seniors can also benefit in important ways from relationships with younger people:
- Cognitive Stimulation
- Chance to Learn New Skills
- Chance to Pass on Stories and Wisdom
- Feelings of Joy and Freedom
- Feeling Youthful Again
- Greater Energy
- Lowered Anxiety and Depression
- Opportunity to Learn About the Changing World
- Physical, Mental, and Emotional Exercise
- Reduced Feelings of Isolation
- Sense of Purpose
The list of things that seniors can contribute to help younger minds is long and diverse, and there is also a lot that seniors can learn and take from those who are younger than they are. Arranging settings in which seniors to take time to build meaningful and valued connections with younger people, whether they be relatives or not, can help them to better their capacity to relate to others, their confidence, mental health, and sense of self. Whether it be through engaging in activities together or just through taking some time to have conversations and learn about other interest and diverse points of view, intergenerational relationships can remind seniors how much they have to give to others while also allowing them the chance to interact with the joy and exuberance of youth.