Published By: Cindy Vondenkamp

Intergenerational Socialization

In so many ways senior housing communities capture the best of both worlds– safety and socialization.  They are a place where residents can be catered to through senior-focused activities, education, assistance, and life safety features.  The industry continues to trend towards bringing multi-generational programs into senior housing that more closely resembles neighborhoods and families.  Those environments where people of all ages share their lives together on a daily basis.

Across the country, developers are re-imagining community life and creating wholesome settings that will appeal to older people. Steve Shields CEO of Action Pact states that “The issue that really plagues the [traditional] model of senior living is, no matter how progressive people get with it, or no matter how many theaters they put in or bars with cocktails or chandeliers, there’s a certain segregation factor. We believe boomers are going to prefer a less homogeneous, isolated life, and prefer staying connected across generations” says Shields.

Bill Thomas, a doctor and international authority on geriatric medicine and eldercare, says, Humans are, and have always been, an intergenerational species.” There are currently approximately 200 mixed-age programs around the country.  


“At a time when families often live miles, if not coasts or continents, apart, intergenerational programs make sense.  Research and anecdotal evidence shows that integrated sites benefit both groups as well as staff. “We know that many adults who are around young children report being more optimistic and less depressed and say they feel needed,” says Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United.

Studies suggest that frail nursing home residents participating in intergenerational activities feel more socially engaged and mobile. Virginia Tech researcher Shannon Jarrott studies adults with dementia. “We think they can’t do much of anything, but they have been able to mentor and assist children with cooking, art and literacy activities. This helps both the developing abilities of the children and the diminishing ones of the adults.” Jarrott also found that the adults’ improved mood lasted even after the children were gone.

In Seattle’s Providence Mount St. Vincent, their toddler room is located on a skilled nursing care floor; another popular destination is the infant room, where residents can hold and cuddle the babies. Besides spontaneous contact, there are formal activities the two groups do together, including sing-alongs, making sandwiches together for the homeless, playing horseshoes every Tuesday, balloon volleyball Thursdays, and reading books to the youngsters on Friday. Older children often sit side by side with residents, while an art therapist helps them create collages and India ink drawings.

“I will sometimes go ahead of a group of kids and observe residents not engaged, and literally the moment they hear the children coming down the hall there’s energy in their bodies and joy on their faces,” says Marie Hoover, director of the Intergenerational Learning Center at the Mount. “These interactions are very home-like and keep residents’ minds alert.”

Home-like and engaged across the generations even when families live apart is exactly what inspired our founders here at LifeShare to bring a personalized experience to enhance our loved one’s daily lives.