Transcending Age-Based Divides: The Case for Scaling Intergenerational Solutions

Major demographic changes in the United States are leading to an increasingly multicultural and Multigenerational society. By 2030, the percentages of adults aged 65 and older and children under age 18 will be roughly the same, with ethnic and racial minorities constituting the majority of the youth population. While these shifts are accompanied by challenges, they also present an unprecedented opportunity for Americans to reimage intentionally engaging with people across all generations and applying an age-inclusive problem-solving les to various societal challenges, shared interests and mutual responsibilities emerge for the benefit of all.

Intergenerational strategies – such as relationships and programs that unite multiple generations to enrich communities – foster collaboration and purpose by addressing the evolving psychological, interpersonal, and sociopolitically challenges that people of all ages face. These strategies not only facilitate the exchange of perspectives and develop social connections among different generations but also support health across the lifespan. Studies have identified a myriad of physical and mental health benefits, stemming from intergenerational engagement, such as less depression and anxiety, reduced cognitive decline, and improved physical functioning.

Intergenerational Strategies to Ignite a Common Good

Addressing the Epidemic of Social Isolation and Loneliness

In 203, US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy declared loneliness and social isolation and epidemic, calling for public and private sector interventions to address the profound threats to the health and well-Being if Americans. Poor social relationships have been associated with several adverse health outcomes, including increased risk of heart disease, dementia, abd depression. Underscoring this crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the detrimental impacts of individual and community isolation, necessitating a nationwide call to action.

A recent Gallup survey found that older adults experience loneliness with 17 percent of people aged 65 and older reporting feeling lonely, and with young adults saying that they feel lonely at twice the levels of those over 65. While social isolation and loneliness are pervasive, there is evidence that experiences fostering intergenerational connection, cultivating one’s purpose, adn enhancing social well-being are a priority at all ages. In fact, nearly 8 out of 10 older adults express the desire to spend more time with people outside of their age group, and an astounding 92 percent of Americans believe intergenerational activities can help reduce loneliness across all ages.

Strengthening Education OUtcomes through Volunteerism

Intergenerational programs in early and higher education ebavke children, adolescents, and young adults to learn life skills, enhance academic outcomes, develop respect and empathy for the older generation, and improve mental health and wellbeing. Research has documented that through intergenerational programs, elementary school students achieve enhanced reading and writing skills, middle school students experience decreased bullying and victimization, abd high school students feel empowered to make positive changes in their neighborhoods. In turn, older volunteers who are engaged in mentorship or academic enrichment learn new skills , gain a greater sense of self-worth, and experience a decrease in functional decline.

According to AARP, connecting older adults and school-age children is a “triple win,” helping strengthen communities, improving students’ academic performance, and fostering a sense of purpose for older volunteers. This triple win is embodied through the community-based volunteer program, Generation Xchange, a partnership between the UCLA Department of Medicine and the LA Unified School District. Through placing older volunteers in classrooms to provide support and mentorship, the program works to impacts health and wellness outcomes for at-risk older adults, while supporting improved academic and behavioral outcomes for children. Programs such as Generation Xchange are utilized across the country and serve a spectrum of ages across the education system, many of which target low-income and marginalized communities.

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