Toddlers and seniors sit at opposite ends of life, one is just getting started and the other is wrapping up a lifetime of treasured memories. Despite how different these two generations may be, researchers are finding that they make great roommates and pals. While there are more and more intergenerational homes popping up around the world, they are still relatively uncommon.
Intergenerational homes are vastly different in the ways that they operate and the reasons they do what they do. For instance, the Nathalie Salmon House offers affordable living for low-income families on the lower floors and a senior center on the top floor. Instead of keeping these two groups separate, the home encourages everyone to work together and form beneficial relationships. Another example of an intergenerational home is Seattle’s Intergenerational Learning Center, which serves as an elderly home first and a preschool 5 days a week.
Benefits Of Intergenerational Homes
Imagine living in old folk’s home, sitting in the main living room surrounded by the same faces every day. It’s quiet and calm and well, boring. Now imagine you live at a senior center where toddlers come by throughout the week to hang out. Suddenly, the scene seems so much livelier, more exciting. Research shows seniors with regular exposure to toddlers are happier, healthier and tend to live longer too.
Toddlers are a lot of work but they keep you young and happy, adding a lot of purpose to your life. On those extra long days when you just want a break from parenting it’s easy to take for granted all of the joy your toddler brings to you. The elderly have finished raising kids but a lack of exposure to younger generations can leave them feeling isolated and without purpose. Even if their family visits every weekend, it can be a long and lonely week leading up to it. Simply spending time with toddlers on a daily or weekly basis can help change that and bring new purpose and joy into their life.
Kids provide the elderly with someone to help, to look after and to teach something to. The elderly are always being taken care of, but it’s important for them to exercise their caretaker genes as well, making them feel more purposeful and less helpless.
It’s not just the elderly that benefit from these relationships, researchers have found toddlers and young kids benefit too, through things like enhanced social skills and confidence.
Real Life Examples Of Intergenerational Homes
Welcome to the Intergenerational Learning Center in Providence Mount St. Vincent, Seattle. This home serves as a full time senior center and a part-time preschool. 5 days a week a whirlwind of bubbly kids shows up for preschool, where they partake in dancing, art, storytelling, lunch and hanging out with the old folks. In fact, the kids love hanging out with the resident elders and many develop strong connections. While kids experience all of the benefits of preschool, the location of the preschool extends its benefits to seniors.
The Nathalie Salmon House in Rogers Park is yet another example of a successful intergenerational home, albeit it operates differently than the Intergenerational Learning Center. This particular facility offers affordable rent to families and individuals of all ages in exchange for help looking after and spending time with seniors—a win-win for all.
Since the building hosts a number of families, there are plenty of children to go around spreading cheer. The current tenants range in age from 1 to 92! The first four floors of the building house 27 private apartments, from small single studios to larger 3-bedroom suites for families with children.
The top floor is where you’ll find the Good Life Senior Residences center. There are 14 senior residents on the top floor, but they are not separated from the families living below. Everyone chips in to provide elder residents help with laundry, home cooked meals and other daily tasks. This makes the environment feel more like a family home as opposed to a sterile senior home.
Resident Carolyn Hatchett, 56, said, “You see different age groups here and it doesn’t seem like a senior home or anything like that.” Hatchett adds, “It’s like a very good retirement home, but it’s not even just that, because you have all different ages and cultures, it’s just like a regular community.”
The Research To Back It Up
A recent study out of Johns Hopkins University found that seniors who volunteer at public schools report increased strength, better balance and fewer falls.
And another study published in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and Other Dementias, analyzed the behaviors of 48 older adults over the course of one week at an intergenerational site. They noted that after spending time with children, seniors were in a better mood and experienced an overall greater sense of wellbeing.