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Intergenerational living is the lifestyle involving interaction with a range of generations on a regular basis. This is hugely beneficial to our lives, in terms of sharing experiences, learning how to interact with different groups of people, and having a diversity of ideas and experience in society. As individuals we thrive on these experiences, as they can enhance vibrancy, connection, and growth to support our wellbeing.

Intergenerational living becoming increasingly difficult

This lifestyle is becoming increasingly rare in our increasingly busy and fragmented lives. This is even more marked for older generations who don’t often find the opportunities to engage and interact with other generations, particularly youth.

This was not always the case. Traditionally, grandparents were much more involved in looking after the grandchildren and generally supporting the household . In the 19th century, multiple generations living under one roof was common, with family members working near to each other. Now older people rarely live with their children; tending to live in their own home, retirement villages or when the need arises, living in an aged care facilities. Additionally, with modern transport systems and cars, travel distances between families have grown significantly.

Factors such as the overall ageing population, a tendency for parents to start families away from where they were raised, and people having less children, and having them later, on average, means that these different generations are becoming increasingly isolated from one another.

What initiatives are supporting Intergenerational living?

Intergenerational programmes (IGPs) to combat this generational disconnect are becoming popular in many countries and are believed to provide great benefits.

“Intergenerational practice aims to bring people together in purposeful, mutually beneficial activities which promote greater understanding and respect between generations and contribute to building more cohesive communities,” The Beth Johnson Foundation (a UK ‘age-friendly’ charity) explains.

In these programmes, people who are paired tend to be of two very different age groups, for example, 65 year olds will often be paired with young teenagers. IGPs have been found to strengthen communities as they bring divided groups together to share their various knowledge, thoughts, and skills. Common examples of intergenerational practice involves children visiting people living in retirement villages or aged care facilities.

Surrogate Grandparents NZ, a solution for struggling families and lonely older people, was founded by Jo Hayes. This programme consists of older people, essentially fostering the children, acting as an alternative for a day care service. From this, experts have seen an improvement in the wellbeing of older people being immersed in the life of families and building relationships with the parents and children.

“Seniors gain a sense of purpose in what can be an isolated and lonely time of their life,” Hayes stated.

“They have so much love to give and have time on their hands. This allows them to give that love, pass on their skills in a meaningful and purposeful way.”

At The Sterling, Kaiapoi we intend to foster strong relationships with different age groups and will be building a playground to make it that much more exciting for children to come and visit. This will mean that The Sterling, Kaiapoi residents will interact with different ages in their daily lives within the village.

What are the benefits of Intergenerational living?

Clinical psychologist, Joanna Macfarlane said her research found intergenerational relationships gave those in their later years a “sense of life” during a time when their involvement in society and contact with other ages is often decreasing. “Just seeing children made them feel connected,” she said.

Intergenerational lifestyles also improve the health of elders, with research showing that those who regularly volunteer with children burn 20% more calories per week, experience fewer falls and perform better on memory tests than their peers. Studies also show that regularly interacting with youths, improves their mental health.

The Sterling, Kaiapoi will be a hub of intergenerational activity, with the café, open to the public, and family members encouraged to visit and stay with residents and enjoy the surrounding areas. A children’s play area will encourage interaction between children and their grandparents.

Other benefits from experiencing an intergenerational lifestyle include:

  • A greater sense of purpose and community, i.e. a feeling of contributing to society.
  • Combats feelings of loneliness and isolation.
  • Improves social, physical and cognitive outcomes through laughing, smiling and getting more active.
  • Changes community perceptions about older people and the ageing process to be more positive.
  • Enhances socialisation.
  • Stimulates learning .
  • Increases emotional support.
  • Improves physical and mental health.
  • Improves memory and lowers risk of dementia.

Children also benefit from the experience as they learn more caring traits, how to interact with older people, and a broader range of education. This can be particularly important for children who do not live near their grandparents, or receive little care or discipline from their parents. These relationships enable young people to gain the attention and guidance they can sometimes lack and creates a society of more focussed and empathetic young people.

Intergenerational practice is extremely beneficial to society as it creates roles for retirees that benefit both them, and the families they connect with. Older individuals benefit from experiencing good health, maintaining independence, and feeling connected to and valued by society. Meanwhile, society benefits from a healthy, happy and involved older population that contributes to the younger generation. Intergenerational living is central to New Zealand’s ageing strategy, as it is a win-win for everybody!

How can Intergenerational living benefit retirement living?

One of the reasons people are choosing to move from their homes to retirement villages is because they are not getting enough social stimulation in their current lifestyle, although many do not realise their need for more intergenerational relationships. If retirement villages can connect older generations, not only with each other, but with other generations, through community activity, they can see residents living a much more fulfilled and vibrant life.

From the design conception of The Sterling, Kaiapoi the concept of an ‘intergenerational lifestyle’ has been at the forefront of our minds. The Sterling, Kaiapoi is being built in the heart of the Silverstream community with a borderless perimeter design to ensure it seamlessly integrates with the wider community. Intergenerational living diversifies any community, but in a tight knit retirement village where residents are often all of a similar age, involving various ages of external people can give a feeling of real-world connection and drive an interest in social events.

For people whose mental or physical health might affect them engaging with the wider community, we will offer excellent wellbeing assistance where residents can receive visits from village assistants, who offer great company and help.

Intergenerational living and IGPs might be the answer to a range of issues, from families struggling with childcare, elderly struggling to find meaningful connection, and societies growing generational disconnect. Retirement villages can benefit from introducing intergenerational activity, for their community’s vibrancy and overall wellbeing.

At The Sterling, Kaiapoi we recognise the importance of interaction with multiple generations for our residents and make it our mission to create a diverse and connected environment that promotes the best lifestyle for resident’s health and wellbeing.