New Report Explores Intergenerational Programming in Senior Housing

CFAR | February 27, 2018 | by Geralyn Magan

"Intergenerational Programming in Senior Housing: From Promise to Practice" describes findings from the first phase of a 2-part study that the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston and Generations United are conducting with support from the Retirement Research Foundation.

A new report from the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston and Generations United identifies the characteristics of successful intergenerational programs in affordable senior housing communities, examines the implementation challenges these programs face, and offers strategies that programs can use to overcome these challenges.

Intergenerational Programming in Senior Housing: From Promise to Practice describes findings from the first phase of a 2-part study that researchers are conducting with support from the Retirement Research Foundation.

A detailed description of the study’s first phase, along with brief profiles of a diverse group of intergenerational programs, is included in a 45-page full report. A 7-page research snapshot provides an overview of the study and its findings.

Over the next year, researchers will use these initial findings to develop, test, and disseminate a toolkit designed to help affordable senior housing communities establish new intergenerational programs or improve existing programs.

Major Findings

Senior housing communities can offer an ideal platform for high-quality intergenerational programming and cross-age relationships, according to the report. Prior research has shown that these interventions can help decrease social isolation among older adults, increase their self-esteem and well-being, and help address ageism in our society.

Researchers conducted surveys and interviews with representatives of market-rate and affordable housing communities that are implementing intergenerational programs. They also interviewed managers at several housing communities that are interested in but are not yet implementing these programs.

Here’s an overview of what they found:

Program Duration: Most of the intergenerational programs participating in the study have been operating for 10 or more years. The youngest program has existed for less than a year; the oldest programs were established 20 or more years ago.

Activities: Intergenerational programs in senior housing serve a range of age groups, including older adults of varying ages, and young people in pre-school through college. Their most popular activities include:

  • Friendly visiting,
  • Arts programming,
  • Health and wellness activities,
  • Oral history/reminiscence interviewing, and
  • Language/literacy programs.

Benefits: Housing providers identified myriad benefits that both young people and older adults have enjoyed because of their participation in intergenerational programs. These benefits include a greater understanding among young people of issues faced by older adults; and decreased isolation and/or increased connectedness among older adults. In addition, both young and older program participants experienced increased:

  • Self-esteem and/or feelings of worth,
  • Trust across ages, and 
  • Sense of community.

Partnerships: Housing communities implement intergenerational programs in collaboration with a wide range of partners, including schools and community organizations. Only a few programs reported having a staff person dedicated exclusively to long-standing intergenerational programs.

Participants: Housing communities generally recruit residents to participate in specific, short-term activities, rather than asking them to share their skills and talents with youth on a long-term basis. Young people in some intergenerational programs provide a specific service to older adults, such as friendly visiting or health education and screenings. In other cases, young people are the recipients of services like mentoring or tutoring.

Funding: Most intergenerational programs are supported through a housing community’s general operating budget. However, intergenerational programs may also receive financial support from memorial funds, resident-initiated fundraisers, and grants from local organizations.

Challenges: Housing providers face a host of challenges when implementing intergenerational programs, including lack of investment by all partners, logistical issues, lack of expertise in designing activities that appeal to both adults and children, insufficient staffing, inconsistent participation among youth and older adults, and the need for more effective fundraising.

Strategies for Success: Despite these challenges, many intergenerational programs have developed effective strategies for success. Researchers gathered promising practices in such areas as partnership building, program planning, participant recruitment, and the promotion of cross-age interaction.

More Information

For more information about this study, read the project’s full report or a research snapshot that provides a brief overview of the study and its findings.

For more information about the project’s next phase, see New Grant: Creating and Sustaining an Intergenerational Culture in Senior Housing.