In the not-so-modern world, generations of families lived together for reasons typically about culture and tradition. In Asian countries in particular, the veneration of elders was and to a large extent still is a cultural cornerstone. Remaining together under one roof provided for many advantages, including the informal transfer of knowledge: children learning life skills and more from older, experienced family members. If an older family member became ill and frail, care was right at hand. Economics and convenience made living communally wholly beneficial. Overall, there was inherent value in living as a single unit.
Finances and Caregiving Top Reasons Why Seniors Live with Younger Family Members
Today, studies show the top reasons for living together are finances and caregiving, not so different as they were in previous generations. In fact multigenerational living has grown sharply over the past five decades according to a Pew Research study. But living under the same roof or not, relationships where age is, as the saying goes, just a number, can have a positive impact on young and old, and everyone in between.
“Growing up I was very close to my grandparents, and also a great aunt and uncle,” says Iris Black*, 42, a nurse practitioner in Chicago. As they both had farms, I’d go after school and all summer long to help out with chores. But the real takeaway from those relationships is how much I learned just by being around them – things that had nothing to do with cows and crops!”
As much as older family members have to offer in the realm of mentorship, younger members are equally adept at sharing resources. For example, deftly demonstrating technology such as using tablets, cell phones, social media, and keeping grandparents up to date on current social norms, educational developments, and trends.
Trend: Assisted Living Communities Fostering Intergenerational Relationships
In the suburbs of Boston, NewBridge on the Charles, a standard continuum of care community that features independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing has made prodigious strides in fostering intergenerational relationships.
Opening in 2010, the Harvard Medical School-affiliated facility makes children a significant part of its operation, sharing its campus with a private school for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. In his book Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End, Dr. Atul Gawande describes the intergenerational environment at NewBridge as trailblazing in so many respects.
Residents work directly with students as tutors and school librarians. When classes study World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, students meet with NewBridge veterans who provide firsthand accounts of what they are learning. Younger students hold monthly events with residents including art shows, holiday celebrations, and music and dance performances. Fifth and sixth graders hold fitness classes together with residents. Middle schoolers are taught how to work with dementia, also taking part in a buddy program with nursing home residents. One young boy developed such a close relationship with an advanced Alzheimer’s resident, he was asked to speak at the man’s funeral. In short, opportunities for intergenerational teaching/learning, including working toward a common goal, are unlimited. Young and old find wisdom, encouragement, companionship, validation, and more as partners on the journey.
Sense of Connectedness Boosts Quality of Life for Seniors
While maintaining a good quality of life is a term generally ascribed to seniors, engaging with family members of varying ages can mean the same for all concerned. Quality of life implies the joy and fulfillment that come from a sense of connectedness — something all human beings need. While intergenerational relationships (especially living under one roof) are not without their challenges, the ability to resolve these issues together can help a younger generation develop necessary skills for successful relationships in the workplace and other venues away from home. For seniors, collaboration with a younger family member can result in a more healthy, vital lifestyle, at a time when so many feel less than productive and that their opportunity to contribute is gone.
“I can’t think of a single downside to all the years spent working side-by-side with my grandparents, great aunt and uncle,” Black says. “I hope to give that same gift to my children and their children for the rest of my life.”
*Name has been changed for reasons of privacy. “Ways Seniors Benefit from Intergenerational Relationships,” written by Beth Herman, Amada blog contributor.