Lois A. Bowers
Lois A. Bowers

We’ve heard much anecdotal evidence of how older and younger people alike benefit from intergenerational programming in senior living.

Kansas City T-Bones pitcher Casey Barnes and four pitchers with the South Bend Cubs have built-in fan bases of fellow residents of the senior living communities where they are living this season. Senior living communities in Cincinnati, Baltimore, and Urbandale, Iowa, among others, are providing homes to college-student musicians during the school year and, in exchange, their residents are treated to performances by the students.

These arrangements are resulting in more than just budget-friendly accommodations for the younger adults and activities for the older ones. They are changing perceptions of aging and senior living in general, too.

After spending time with residents at The Piper in Kansas City, KS, initially wary baseball player Barnes said: “I hope I end up in a place like this when I’m at that age.” And Drake University music major Haley Jenkins, about whom we reported in January, enjoyed her experience at Urbandale continuing care retirement / life plan community Deerfield so much that she decided to extend her stay an additional semester and also is now contemplating using her musical talents in a career in senior living.

As Jim Lay, executive director of Twin Towers in Cincinnati, which has a student artists-in-residence program with the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music puts it, these arrangements have delivered “a depth of kinship and connection between unlikely acquaintances.” And now a study suggests that the benefits of these intergenerational experiences may extend even beyond the people directly participating in them.

Psychologists at the University of Kent in England found that even when young adults have no social contact with older adults in their everyday lives, they were less anxious about interacting with older adults when they knew friends who had positive relationships with older adults. The friends’ positive experiences increased the young adults’ positive attitudes about older adults in general and made intergenerational friendships seem more acceptable. You can read more about the research on the British Journal of Social Psychology website.

These findings are encouraging at a time when an increasing number of senior living communities are welcoming younger people into their spaces or are choosing to build in settings that promote interaction between generations, as evidenced by planned communities near Berry College in Rome, GA, or Arizona State University in Tempe. Together with other efforts to communicate that older adults can lead happy, active lives, such as the “Disrupt Aging” campaign by the AARP (see below) and individual videos posted online by senior living communities (one of the most recent examples of such videos brings us back to Kansas, where staff members and residents of CCRC Santa Marta in Olathe perform to Justin Timberlake’s “Can’t Stop the Feeling” — see below), intergenerational programs really are changing the lives of younger and older adults, and perceptions of aging and senior living, for the better.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight’s Senior Living. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @Lois_Bowers.