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Across the Ages of the Generational Gap

June 7, 2015 10:16 AM | Columns

By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman

Senior - Child Hands

NEEPAWA, Man. — In the last month or so, it seems as though I have had frequent occasion to talk to some seniors within our community. It all started about a month ago, when I was gathering stories our VE Day special. During that time, I got a front row seat to stories from World War II, both at home and abroad.

Then last week, a woman in her 70s was telling me about some of her recent trips, including an excursion zip lining between the Whistler and Backcomb mountains. “One more thing off the bucket list,” she told me.

Growing up, I never knew my grandparents — they had all passed before I was born. I had some grand-parent stand ins; a good friend of my grandmother with whom we remained close and my best friend’s grandmother, who I was allowed to “borrow.” But I missed out on the experiences many children have with their grandparents. I didn’t hear first hand stories about any wars, times of great hardship or stories of life in “the old country.” I didn’t get to learn what my parents had been like as kids.

We all tend to get stuck within our generations. Our friends tend to be of similar age, stage and life experience. It leads us to forget that others may have already overcome the challenges we face, or have a different way of looking at our problems.

Last week, I also went to Country Meadows Personal Care Home to take pictures of a successful program which pairs Grade 5 students with Country Meadows residents. As part of the Adopt a Grandparent program, the students visit the care home once a month, talk to the residents and they take part in activities together.

It might surprise some, but the students really enjoy hearing about the residents’ lives and the history of the area. With many children living far away from their grandparents, the program reminds students about the times they have shared with their grandparents.

Judging from the faces, both the students and the residents enjoy the program.

Beyond having some fun, intergenerational programs have been shown to have a number of positive effects.

For seniors, such programs have been shown to promote a better understanding of youth; decrease feelings of isolation, loneliness and boredom; provide a sense of purpose; offer a means to give back to the community and offer a way of passing on life skills, history, life experience and knowledge. Seniors can also learn new skills, such as technology, and pick up some of the enthusiasm often displayed by younger people.

For young adults, such programs help develop a healthy attitude towards ageing; provide an understanding of culture, history and other experiences; create a sense of social responsibility and community; improve skills such as communication, problem solving and life skills and offer a way to learn about culture, history and other life experiences. Conversing with an older person can also help them feel respected and listened to.

Years ago, this sort of transfer happened naturally. In the past, it was more common for multiple generations to live together and families weren’t nearly so disbursed across countries and continents. But today. we have to make more of an effort.

The benefits of intergenerational friendships don’t just apply to school-age children. At all ages of life, having friends with a different perspective can help us see the forest for the trees, or find the needle in the haystack.

Tags: Manitoba