Towards the end of last year an image of an elderly couple teaching a young man how to tie his tie was shared around the world on social media and made global news. The elderly American couple were walking post a park bench where the young man sat unsuccessfully trying to create a tie knot.
The woman asked the man if he knew what he was he was doing and he responded simply: "No, ma'am," according to the witness, Redd Desmond Thomas - who wrote about the encounter on Facebook. The woman asked her husband to help and the elderly man showed the younger man how to tie the necktie. "Then - afterward - the elder gentleman watched the younger man repeat the steps and show him that he had it," Thomas wrote in the post. Thomas snapped a picture of the couple's kind gesture and included the image with his post on social media. It gathered over 570,000 likes and was shared more than 160,000 times within 48 hours.
There are similar examples I have heard about that bring generations and cultures together by sharing knowledge and experiences. One included older people in the UK helping call centre staff in Asia with their command of the English language. The young call centre employees were encouraged to have discussions with the older people via Skype to enable them to practise their English and pick up the nuances of the language. Another scheme encouraged older people in the UK to volunteer to visit local classrooms and help children with their reading and writing.
A programme in the States has taken this further by integrating classrooms into residential nursing homes. The idea is that kindergartens and elders learn from each other. The nursing home provides students with daily mentors in their academic and social development, which has proven results in ready and vocabulary. The success of the scheme has inspired other areas in the States to introduce similar and it has become a model for intergenerational learning.
This programme has benefits on many different levels. It's helping to eliminate loneliness, helplessness and boredom in an ageing population and the elders gain a real sense of purpose. For the young students it promotes respect, tolerance and acceptance of physical differences, plus academic success.
Intergenerational schemes don't just benefit young children, universities have found that their students benefit from contact with older generations too. Many students, who often move to different parts of the country, can have trouble settling in and making friends. A mutually beneficial way of alleviating older people's isolation and helping students meet new people is through volunteering projects in the local community.
We have an ageing population with valuable life and work experiences and we're facing ongoing funding cuts to health, social and children's care yet we have greater demand than ever. It's time to focus on ways in which we can further promote intergenerational schemes that are proving successful and cost effective.
Sources: The Grace Living Centre & The Guardian Social Care Network