For more than 10 years, GEF Seniors Housing has partnered with the Terra Centre, a not-for-profit association dedicated to providing supports to teen parents while they finish their education and plan for the future. The children who attend the Terra Centre’s Child and Family Support Centre program visit Ottewell Place for intergenerational programming that benefits both the seniors living at the lodge and the children with the Terra Centre. One child in particular has become a strong example of the benefits of intergenerational programming.
“We know that consistent and familiar relationships and routines are important to Skyler’s development and learning,” explain representatives from the Terra Centre in a story they wrote and published called At the Lodge with Skyler, which chronicles a typical day for three-year-old Skyler when he visits Ottewell Place. “This familiarity contributes to his sense of security and attachment, which is his emotional well-being, positive self-identity, and a sense of belonging.”
Skyler’s visits to Ottewell Place include everything from watching the pet birds at the lodge and spending time with the residents to more creative activities like playing the piano and singing for the residents and other children. The Terra Centre’s story on Skyler highlights Skyler’s especially strong interest and immediate attraction to music as a good avenue for further development.
“Many have noticed that Skyler seems to have an interest in music and singing, particularly the piano,” the story outlines. “Bringing musical instruments into the playroom as well as making musical instruments can help support him further.
The development that the Terra Centre is observing in Skyler demonstrates the clear benefits of intergenerational programming. The benefits for the children involved with intergenerational recreation include improved academic skills, better social skills, decreases in negative behaviours, and increases in social stability. Children see an increase in self-esteem, problem solving skills, and an appreciation for seniors and aging when involved with these kinds of programs.
GEF Seniors Housing’s has explored intergenerational programming with other community partners. Beverly Place saw a strong partnership with the Abbottsfield Youth Project with the Love Grows Here art project. Ottewell Terrace remains the home for the Primrose Place Family Centre daycare, where the children often visit the residents living at Ottewell Manor. For GEF Seniors Housing, the benefits of intergenerational programming to the children are important, but the mental and physical health benefits to the seniors are something to take note.
A 2004 study in the Journal of Urban Health shows that seniors involved with intergenerational recreation programming burn 20 per cent more calories per week, experienced fewer falls, were less dependent on canes and other walking aides, and had better cognitive skills. Another study from 2003 in the American Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease and other Dementias showed that older adults with dementia or other cognitive impairments saw significant improvements in their overall mental health during interactions with children.
“The science is clear when it comes to intergenerational programming,” says GEF Seniors Housing CEO Raymond Swonek. “It’s a trend that we’re seeing pick up all across Canada and that makes me really happy. It means more people are listening to the facts, seeing the same positive outcomes that we’re seeing, helping more people have a good quality of life. I hope we get to see more partnerships blossom like the ones we have with the Terra Centre and the Primrose Place Family Centre so even more children and seniors can gain from the benefits of intergenerational programming.”