Older Adults Thrive in Intergenerational Shared Sites

By Trent Stamp and Donna Butts

Intergenerational shared sites, or places where old and young regularly interact or live with each other, offer incredible benefits for both generations. Whether at an intergenerational living community, an integrated senior/child day care center, or another interactive space, old and young find purpose, joy and better health together.

These shared sites play an important role in reducing social isolation in older adults, which is linked to a host of health problems. Connecting with younger generations also promotes a sense of purpose, which has been shown to increase longevity and health. Meanwhile, children and youth grow up with an older adult presence in their lives—which leads to improved academic performance and long-term prospects, and a stronger society for all.

One such site is Kingsley House in New Orleans. A shared adult day center, Head Start and Early Head Start site, they serve young and old alongside each other. Being surrounded by older adults from an early age has a lifelong impact on the children—they’re known as compassionate, empathetic, and accepting, and don’t balk at befriending other children perceived as “different.” Meanwhile, the presence of children creates a vibrant, joyful atmosphere for the older adults.

Last year, The Eisner Foundation and Generations United produced a new report on intergenerational shared sites like Kingsley House across the U.S., including the first baseline study of shared sites in 20 years and a public opinion poll of interest in and knowledge of such sites. More than two-thirds of shared site representatives said their program’s purpose was to facilitate positive intergenerational relationships, improve attitudes toward elders and youth, and support the health and development of participants. In addition, half said their program improved attitudes toward another group besides other generations—including disabled persons, immigrants, and LGBTQ individuals.

The public opinion poll found widespread approval of shared sites and intergenerational activities. A strong majority of Americans, 89%, believe serving both children/youth and older adults at the same location is a good use of resources, and 82% would support their tax dollars going toward the creation of such facilities. In addition, 85% said that if a loved one needed care, they would prefer a care setting with opportunities for intergenerational interaction. However despite this strong support, only 26% were aware of shared sites in their own communities. This demonstrates a real opportunity for the sector: people want these shared sites, but can’t find them.

While these sites are beneficial for all ages involved, there are a host of regulatory and social barriers to creating them. But with a clear vision and new partnerships across government, nonprofits, and the care industry, these sites can change the way we age in the U.S.

On Monday, April 15, leaders of The Eisner Foundation, Generations United, Kingsley House and The Ohio State University will present these findings and a path forward at the ASA Aging in America conference in New Orleans.

Trent Stamp is CEO of The Eisner Foundation and Donna Butts is Executive Director of Generations United.