For the last three years, Max Mozell, 88, has sat down to play chess nearly every Monday during the school year, trying to win — but hoping he’ll lose.
That’s because Mozell, a retired college dean and former neuroscience professor, faces opponents nearly one-fifth his age through an intergenerational chess program run by a Manhattan-based nonprofit. “I sort of enjoy losing,” he says. “I try to win, because otherwise it isn’t a real game. But when I get beaten, it’s fun to see a kid being so nice about it. They take a certain pride in winning, and they learn that if they really play hard, they can win.”
As Mozell describes it, the benefits of his multiage chess program go to both sides of the board. "You get to my age, and you sort of forget that there are kids in the world,” Mozell says. “But then every Monday I find out that there are. Not only that, but they’re thinking kids — and it’s fun to be with them.”
Studies show that spending time with the younger set just might improve your health, too. “One recent study showed that, for seniors, spending time with kids had cognitive benefits, as well as emotional and physical health benefits,” says Jennifer Crittenden, assistant director of the University of Maine Center on Aging. Doing so also can provide older adults with a sense of purpose, Crittenden says, which can be an important factor in mitigating or minimizing depression. Another study on older people volunteering with youth found they had higher rates of life satisfaction compared with their peers who were not volunteering with kids.
While many programs focus on the benefits to children from interactions like having older volunteers read to them, “bringing two generations together gives older adults an opportunity to learn from children, as well. It isn’t just a one-way flow of information and experience,” Crittenden says.
Read on for a few expert tips on how to add more kid power to your own life.
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Join naturally integrated social groups
Cornell University gerontologist Karl Pillemer surveyed 2,000 people over age 65 to ask their best advice for living. "One of their strongest recommendations for growing older is to stay socially integrated,” he says, noting that this can be challenging given our natural inclination to "gravitate toward others close to our own age." His advice? Search out existing organizations, such as houses of worship or civic organizations, that blend a variety of ages for you. Local libraries are often rich sources of information about these; neighborhood listservs also can help you find multiage groups.
Call hospitals, daycare centers, school districts, or volunteer groups
Whether you’re interested in holding babies, reading to toddlers or tutoring teens, many local organizations are eager to welcome older volunteers. Ellen Cyrus, 74, of Tamarack, Minn., signed up with a volunteer organization in her community to do projects as varied as painting city hall with student groups and helping to run an annual, cross-age charity fashion show. “We have ‘models’ from babies on up to seniors, and everybody feels good about it,” says the retired administrative assistant. “I think it’s very important that youth and seniors somehow dovetail. It’s beneficial for everybody, because [we all] need a comfort for our soul at times.”
Reach out to your closest college
Many campuses have student groups in place — such as Project Generations — that are designed to foster interaction between students and older people. Contact your nearby college’s community outreach department for more information. Gret Atkin, 72, a retired Cornell University researcher, plays puzzles and games with younger opponents at Ithaca College through a program run by her college-affiliated retirement community. She also meets younger classmates while auditing several courses at the college. One illuminating moment: a recent discussion during a Sociology of Aging course about dating traditions. “The idea of whether you waited to kiss somebody on the second or third date was foreign to them,” Atkin laughs. The evolution of phones inevitably sparked another lively conversation. “Students were like, ‘You mean you actually had to share your phone with somebody else?’” Atkin recalls. “They just couldn’t believe that was the way it was at one time!”