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Retirement Communities Say 'Bring In the Kids!'

Intergenerational programs benefit all age groups

Hoskins, a former nurse, is also taking part in another Judson program with third graders. Recently, the two groups, with their dramatic age difference, visited a nearby exhibit of Norman Rockwell prints on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, created stories about them, and acted out the scenes together.

Mutually beneficial

Approximately 200 mixed-age programs, such as those in long-term care and adult day care centers, exist around the country, according to Donna Butts, executive director of Generations United, a national organization that advocates for intergenerational programs and policies. And more programs are in the pipeline.

At a time when families often live miles, if not coasts or continents, apart, intergenerational programs make sense. Research and anecdotal evidence shows that integrated sites benefit both groups as well as staff. "We know that many adults who are around young children report being more optimistic and less depressed and say they feel needed," says Butts.

Studies suggest that frail nursing home residents participating in intergenerational activities feel more socially engaged and mobile. Virginia Tech researcher Shannon Jarrott studies adults with dementia. "We think they can't do much of anything, but they have been able to mentor and assist children with cooking, art and literacy activities. This helps both the developing abilities of the children and the diminishing ones of the adults." Jarrott also found that the adults' improved mood lasted even after the children were gone.

Something special in Seattle

Inside Providence Mount St. Vincent ("the Mount"), a Seattle assisted living and long-term care facility, is a vibrant child care center. One toddler room is located on a skilled nursing care floor; another popular destination is the infant room, where residents can hold and cuddle the babies. Besides spontaneous contact, there are formal activities the two groups do together, including sing-alongs, making sandwiches together for the homeless, playing horseshoes every Tuesday, balloon volleyball Thursdays, and reading books to the youngsters on Friday. Older children often sit side by side with residents, while an art therapist helps them create collages and India ink drawings.

"I will sometimes go ahead of a group of kids and observe residents not engaged, and literally the moment they hear the children coming down the hall there's energy in their bodies and joy on their faces," says Marie Hoover, director of the Intergenerational Learning Center at the Mount. "These interactions are very home-like and keep residents' minds alert."

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