Old and young, they still talk

Old and young, they still talk

On Fridays at 10 a.m., Richard Bement and Zach Ahmed log in to their weekly video chat. The program that brought them together offers online discussion leads and suggests arts-related activities, but the two largely ignore all of this.

“We just started talking about things that were important to us,” said Mr. Ahmed, 19, a pre-med student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

Since meeting more than a year ago, topics of conversation have included: Pink Floyd, in a long exploration led by Mr. Bement, 76, a retired business manager from Milford Township, Ohio; their religious beliefs (the main interlocutor is Episcopalian; the youngest is Muslim); Their families; changing gender norms; and poetry, including Mr. Ahmed’s own efforts.

“There is a misconception that these two generations cannot communicate,” Mr. Bement said. “I don’t find that to be true.”

“Zach tells me about his organic chemistry class and his status as a student in 2024. I offer Zach the opportunity to share with me what it’s like to be him, and vice versa.”

The University of Miami launched Opening Minds Through Art, a program designed to foster intergenerational understanding, in 2007 and introduced an online version in 2022. This semester, about 70 pairs enrolled in the video program. Another 73 students participate in OMA-sponsored arts activities with people living with dementia at a nursing home, senior center and adult day program.

There are thousands of similar programs, said Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, which promotes such efforts. Intergenerational programs can involve toddlers in daycares playing with nursing home residents, seniors and elementary school children engaging in community gardening, or students and seniors joining forces against the climate change.

“As age segregation has increased in our society, the impetus to try to overcome it has definitely increased,” said Karl Pillemer, a Cornell gerontologist who has led research on communication intergenerational.

Factors such as early retirement, age-segregated housing, and declining membership in traditional churches and social organizations have produced “a decline in opportunities for natural intergenerational interactions,” Dr. Pillemer said.

“There are entire industries where older people are rare,” he added, citing advertising, entertainment and technology. “Most networks are just people 10 years older or 10 years younger than them.”

One reason that matters is the impact of ageism on the health of older people. Repeatedly, studies demonstrating the impact of older adults’ negative attitudes toward aging, many of which were conducted by Yale psychologist Dr. Becca Levy, have found associations between negative attitudes toward aging. aging and the risks of cardiovascular events such as strokes and heart attacks, and psychiatric illnesses, including depression. and anxiety.

In contrast, people with positive perceptions of their age perform better on memory and hearing tests, have better physical function, and recover more quickly after periods of disability. And they live longer.

Ageist attitudes are formed in early childhood, but they can be changed, Dr. Levy found. Intergenerational programs are one way to counter them.

For example, several studies on OMA have demonstrated that after just one semester, participating students had improved overall attitudes towards people with dementia and greater comfort with them.

In another study, younger participants developed greater affection, greater kinship, engagement and enthusiasm towards older people with dementia, compared to students who did not participate. Search with medical students who participated in OMA found similar results.

Additionally, “as we get more information about intergenerational programs and enough high-quality studies using comparison groups, the news gets better and better,” said lead author Dr. Pillemer of a 2019 meta-analysis finding that intergenerational programs significantly reduced ageism among younger participants.

A recent meta-analysis of 23 studies of intergenerational programs in nine countries found other effects, including less depression, better physical health, and increased “generativity” among older people. The effects were small but statistically significant.

Generativity refers to the desire to leave a legacy. Dr. Pillemer describes it as “a developmental need felt by older people, who help younger generations create a better world that they will not live to see.”

In Rochester, New York, for example, young employees of the The Center for Teen Empowerment worked with older members of a community group, Clarissa Street Legacy, to produce a film and exhibit that documents a vibrant black community that was nearly destroyed by highway construction decades ago.

The teenagers “came to our house with cameras and microphones and asked us questions and listened to us describe what Clarissa Street meant to us,” said Kathy Sprague-Dexter, 77, who grew up in the neighborhood and witnessed the movement. “Our thinking was: We’re not going to be here long. We need young people to be part of it. »

The documentary film was shown in high schools and colleges across the country; the exhibit, after several weeks in a downtown art space, will reopen Feb. 21 at the Rochester Public Library.

“I don’t think we could have accomplished this without young people, their ingenuity, their skills and their connections,” Ms. Sprague-Dexter said. “They carried the load.”

Attempts to bridge the multigenerational gap are not always successful. Programs come and go. A 2022 Generations United survey found that 40% of intergenerational programs surveyed had been in operation for a decade or more, but nearly half had just started within the past year.

“You can’t just put people in the same room and expect something to happen,” said Dr. Shannon Jarrott, a gerontologist and researcher at Ohio State University. The most effective programs provide preparatory training to participants at both ends of the age range, she said, with activities and equipment suited to all parties.

They work best with “consistent pairing,” so that the same two people “have the chance to continue to build that relationship,” Dr. Jarrott explained. More frequent interactions seem to have greater effects.

“What really works is contact on an equal footing,” Dr. Pillemer said. “It’s not just a service project, primarily seen as a young person helping an elderly person.”

“It’s only been about 150 years since people turned to someone other than the oldest person in a community for advice on finding a mate or what crops to plant if drought,” he added. “It’s a dangerous experience to have a society in which that doesn’t happen.”

Initially, Mr. Ahmed viewed the program, which had been suggested to him by a sociology professor as a way to get extra college credits, as a favor of sorts.

“I entered expecting to win nothing for myself,” he said. “The idea of ​​older people getting older is pretty depressing. They lose a lot of people in their lives.

But as conversations with Mr. Bement continued, Mr. Ahmed realized that the program was helping him, too. “What I read in history books, he lived,” Mr. Ahmed said of Mr. Bement. “This changes the stereotypical and stigmatized view of older people. They have stories, experiences and more life than me.

The couple is now in their third semester. They met in person once, for dinner. “It was wonderful,” Mr. Bement recalls. “My life has been improved because of this relationship.”

Could they continue next year? “Why not?” » said Mr. Ahmed. “I really appreciate this friendship.”

Mr. Bement found two new students to speak with, but said he would still make time for Mr. Ahmed.

Avatar photo

Eric D. Eilerman

Related Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read also x