6 Tips to Create a Successful Intergenerational Program

Did you know… social isolation has a significant impact on the well-being and physical and mental health of older adults and those providing them with care. Social isolation is often defined as the objective lack of, or limited, social contact with others.

The good news is that evidence shows that bringing generations together can be mutually beneficial in targeting social isolation! The SIIP project aims to improve social inclusion for older adults living with dementia through intergenerational experiences in Waterloo Region. We would like to share some of what we have learned from the research and experiences over the last year of intergenerational programming through the SIIP project.

#1: Focus on Community Outreach

Dedicate a team member to focus on community outreach and recruitment. Ideally, this person will have prior experience working with the target population and has pre-existing relationships with potential participants. Working with community leaders and health and social care providers, as well as local agencies and organizations, is often beneficial in identifying socially isolated older adults, those with dementia, and care partners and spreading the word about your program.

#2: Remove Barriers

Two of the most reported barriers to participation in programs are mobility and transportation limitations. Transportation options and costs need to be considered when planning recruitment for your program. If possible, within your program, consider hiring paid or volunteer drivers to pick up participants, arrange and/or provide travel with accessible vehicles, reimburse travel expenses.

#3: Accessibility Matters

Some participants may face communication challenges like language limitations, health literacy levels, and sensory and cognitive impairments. It’s important to ensure that program materials and tools are accessible, in plain language and in the target audience’s primary language with the intended meaning after translation. Try to hire staff that are bilingual and speak/read languages common in your target population. It is also helpful to use the same translation service/tools for all the program’s translation needs.

#4: Educate Participants

Most successful intergenerational programs provide an educational component. Providing education is important to achieving long-term outcomes. In an intergenerational program, educational sessions can aim to teach the younger generation about dementia to aid in their interactions or mentoring programs can have older adults support the younger generations in performing activities. One option is to consider offering separate sessions with participating groups at the outset to prepare participants and inform them about the needs of the other group. This can build confidence and put both generations at ease.

If you are looking for educational opportunities for youth, check out our LDJ for Young Adults

#5: Keep it fun and informal

In your intergenerational program, try to provide informal social interaction and offer a familiar location. Maximizing social opportunities within the program can be achieved by allowing participants to mingle in an informal setting. Promoting informal social connections allows friendships to develop more naturally. It is recommended that in intergenerational programs, sessions should start with participants interacting informally so that meaningful relationships can develop before activities begin.

#6: Use a strengths-based approach

Intergenerational programs and activities should be asset-based and build on the strengths and preferences of the participants of both generations. Programs should place equal value on the contribution of both the younger and older generation, acknowledging that both generations can teach or coach in their turn. For example, youth share drawing skills and older adults sharing reading skills.