Fighting Ageism through Intergenerational Contacts

March 28, 2018

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

 

Ageism is high on the list of stereotypes that require society’s attention and need to be overcome, along with sexism and racism. Changes in the society’s consciousness don’t happen overnight, requiring a gradual and well thought-out approach and some struggle.

However, a generation or two later the sown seeds should germinate, and the attitude of the society towards seniors may be entirely different. That would actually be very timely, since the US senior population is rapidly growing, and in another 20 years will comprise a significantly greater share than today.

One of the methods that may eventually assist in eradicating ageism is increasing the amount of intergenerational contact, the contact between the young and the old. In the traditional society of the past, the entire family lived together, so this contact was completely natural. Children learned from their elders and assisted them when it was required. There was no issue of ageism ever present, since the elders were the most respected age group due to their wisdom and experience. Now, in the age of the nuclear family, grandparents may be a thousand miles from their grandchildren, and with the latter having no exposure to seniors, it’s relatively natural that they do not feel much affinity for this age group. In order to learn compassion and understanding, children need exposure, and the generational segregation in place in the Western societies today is not conducive to preventing ageism.

Another side of this coin is that seniors who are lacking social contact with family members are more prone to depression and feelings of isolation and desperation than those in close contact with their children and grandchildren. And isolation and depression is known to make seniors more prone to exacerbation of physical problems.

Grandchildren make grandparents happier, grandparents make grandchildren more tolerant

 

Photo by pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

But we already knew that, right. Now it’s confirmed once again by scientific research. A study conducted at the University of Liege in Belgium has found that children and adolescents exposed to regular contact with their grandparents are the least ageist, although the crucial factor is the quality of their contact, with the grandparents’ health running a close second. It’s only natural that the children’s experience with their grandparents, who are the closest point of contact with the senior population, is later extrapolated onto their general attitude towards older adults.

Some interesting steps have been implemented at a number of nursing homes that are combined with kindergartens. This has not become a popular trend yet, but as already proven positive for everyone – both seniors and children. Kids who spend time with seniors run a far smaller risk of thinking of seniors as intimidating or strange, and are less likely to grow up with ageist attitudes. Seniors, on the other hand, can find their time with children very rewarding. They also become more active physically, which is certainly a positive factor in any age, but especially for seniors. In addition, young kids do not recognize signs of dementia or other cognitive disorders and are not frustrated by them or judgmental in a way that adults may be.

There is great potential in intergenerational contact, which definitely brings advantages to both the individuals and the community. There’s currently discrimination against the elderly in all spheres of life, from the labor market to health care, and any effort to fight it is valuable. Older people deserve equal standing in all areas of life, respect and understanding, and we as a society need to ensure that we start as early as possible in teaching our children that people of all ages, races, nationality, religious and sexual creed are equal in their rights.

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