The Intergenerational Impact in Communities

By: Mary Ellen Nessmith

October 2015


An intergenerational relationship is when individuals of youth and older generations spend time together or work together. Unfortunately, this is not as prevalent in the modern day world as it was in years past.  Many families no longer live in multigenerational settings. Pursuing jobs, education or relationships have created geographic distance in families over recent decades. Seniors are retiring to a different area of the country based on climate or moving into a specialized community such as Continuing Care Retirement Communities {CCRC} (Breeding, 2015). Formal programs such as Catch Health Habits do a great job of recognizing advantages of young and old spending time together.  This program entails an older adult volunteer mentoring school age children on healthy eating, nutrition information and fun games and exercises.  Whether participants are related or not–formal intergenerational programs are becoming increasingly popular due to the benefits (Breeding, 2015).  Why is this important to our culture? What benefits and barriers surround this issue?



Remarkable Effects from These Relationships!

When older adults and children pursue relationships they both benefit.  Family members are not the only people who can enjoy the advantage of intergenerational relationships.  It can provide an opportunity for both age groups to learn new skills. The child or older adult obtain sense of purpose.  Development of intergenerational relationships helps alleviate fears children may have of the elderly. The adults help children to understand and later accept their own aging process (Fay, 2014).  Active, involved older adults with close intergenerational connections consistently report much less depression, better physical health, and higher degrees of life satisfaction. They tend to be happier with their present life and more hopeful for the future.” One study showed that when a child is mentored by an adult, they are: 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs; 27% less likely to begin using alcohol; 52% less likely to skip school. (Bosak, 2013).


It seems simple, so what are the obstacles?

What are some barriers to cultivating intergenerational relationships? Geography is one of the most significant barriers. For decades families lived in the same geographical location.  More recently, as noted earlier, families tend to live further apart today.  Many older adults are living longer but may not get the opportunity to cultivate an intergenerational relationship with families due to the distance.  Another obstacle to cultivating these relationships is created by the messages that society provides regarding older adults. “Many advertisements promote youth and seem to suggest that growing older is a negative thing: something to fear or feel bad about. At the same time, people are living longer than they ever have. The increasing number of older adults, along with societal messages that aging is bad, may lead to negative thoughts or feelings about older adults.” (Randunovich & Spence 2012).



Helping Society Prepare for the Future

We are all aware of the exponential growth in the aging population. “By 2030, roughly 20% of the national population will be older than the age of 65, and healthcare costs will have increased by 25%.  Therefore, creating common ground between older and younger Americans, even those who are not related, is becoming critically important. Today’s children are tomorrow’s caregivers and medical professionals, and they will need to understand the ideas, values, and concerns of this population.  As education scholars have pointed out, a number of seniors’ and children’s psychosocial needs are complementary.  Some of these needs can be met when seniors and children come together to learn and share a variety of experiences.” (Bosak, 2013).  As we address the caregiving crisis in our country over the next decade it is critical to consider promoting intergenerational relationships into our service models and homes to ensure we can work together.



Practice Makes Perfect: Real World Examples!


2015 Best Intergenerational Communities Awards

Communities in the U.S. who plan and foster intergenerational relationship with such programs as: senior center located in a public library, seniors volunteering as crossing guards, and intergenerational dance classes.


Catch Healthy Habits

Older Adults volunteer as mentors in a series of twelve one-hour sessions in summer and after school programs


Housing Programs for College Students in Nursing Homes

Students receive subsidized housing in exchange for visiting and assisting older adults.


Seattle preschool placement in a Nursing Home

View the clip to witness the difference made in the lives of the elderly residents and children.



Breeding, B. (2015).  Common Ground: Intergenerational Programs Benefit Both Children & Older Adults. Retrieved from programs-benefit-both-children-older-adults


Spence, L. & Radunovich, H. (2012).  Developing Intergenerational Relationships. Retrieved from:


Fay, T (2014). The Fun and Value of Intergenerational Programming. Retrieved from:


Bosak, S. (2013). Benefits of Intergenerational Connections. Retrieved from: