At age 93, singer Tony Bennett is still going strong with tour dates scheduled through this summer. One of the lessons of aging well that we can learn from him is to spend time with people of different generations. He has recorded with Lady Gaga and other younger artists who have kept him relevant to multiple generations of music lovers.

When I think about the interactions that shaped my values as a child, it was the impact that an older adult made in my life. Positive role models left a lasting impression of what it means to age with grace. In turn, I may have positively impacted the health of those older adults as researchers are now reporting the age-enhancing effects of intergenerational programs.

Intergenerational programs provide opportunities for different generations to come together to share experiences, knowledge, and skills that are mutually beneficial and foster positive long-term relationships.

Intergenerational activities bring benefits to people of all ages. Older adults who regularly volunteer with children burn 20% more calories per week, experience fewer falls, and perform better on memory tests than their peers. When spending time with children, older adults can share their wisdom, reigniting a sense of purpose. And let’s be honest: children have a lot of energy that can renew us just by being in their presence.

Older adults can learn new innovations and technologies from their younger counterparts, which we have witnessed at our Technology Assistance and Support class where we teamed high school aged volunteers with older adults requesting assistance with their mobile devices.   

For youth, interacting with older adults helps develop communication skills, problem-solving abilities, positive attitudes toward aging, and a sense of community service. Youth involved in intergenerational mentoring programs are 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27% less likely to begin using alcohol, and 52% less likely to skip school. In schools where older adults were a regular fixture, children had improved reading scores compared to their peers at other schools.

Overall, intergenerational connections help to strengthen our community as integration, rather than separation, makes the most of our resources so that people of all ages can thrive. Intergenerational programs bring together diverse ages, reducing inaccurate and negative stereotypes. Children, youth, and older adults are less alienated when the community recognizes that people of all ages can be contributing members of society. If you would like to connect with youth, please consider becoming a volunteer to teach cribbage.  Volunteers only need to know the basics to play cribbage with 4th grade students during math class at Afton-Lakeland Elementary, the Bayport site of Community Thread and/or at Rutherford Elementary. Call Leanna Miller, Volunteer Coordinator at Community Thread, at 651-439-7434 to learn more. You just may make a new, younger friend, as well as a lasting impact in a young person’s life.

By: Sally Anderson