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Can Mixing Younger and Older Individuals Help to Lengthen Life?

Humans are social animals and our need for companionship and conversation is hard-wired, which helps us lengthen life. And it doesn’t fade as we age.

Despite this, increasing numbers of elderly people are finding themselves isolated and alone. We tend to articulate our feelings about this in terms of our sorrow that older people should be lonely or in terms of our anger that we are wasting one of our greatest human resources.

Older men and women have deep seams of knowledge, experience and wisdom that could and should be mined by younger generations to lengthen life. Recent research; however, suggests a much more tangible consideration.

Structured Contact with Younger Generations Can Lengthen?Life

A number of public organisations have recently published reports on the importance of inter-generational activities to all age groups.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) is shortly to produce draft guidelines drawn from evidence garnered from around the globe. NICE states that there is real empirical evidence that intergenerational activities can improve health outcomes and that local authorities should begin implementing a plan for such programmes.

Likewise, the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has delivered a report, Generation Strain, which goes so far as to say that in order to contain the rising social care and health costs, we must focus on keeping older people healthy by involving them in the life and activities of the wider community.

Similarly, there is solid evidence that young people who have regular exposure to older generations are mentally and physically healthier than those who remain solely within their peer group.

Clearly, putting an end to what has been termed “age apartheid” is something we can and should do on an urgent basis.

Bringing the Generations Together To Lengthen Life

As well as the work needed by public sector institutions, charities and residential care homes have a vital role to play. ?Haverstock School in North London, for example, has run a programme of bringing together its pupils and the older people in the local community by way of amateur theatrical productions and social events such as tea parties.

Residential care homes are uniquely placed to become involved in intergenerational activities. Many state-run and private care homes already offer a wide range of social activities such as dances, bingo nights, lectures and study groups, bake sales for charities and film shows.

A glance at the brochures of some of the more progressive private care chains, such as Balcombe, which has a number of residential homes in the South East of England, is instructive. It lists an impressive range of activities for residents, including themed lunches, arts and crafts sessions, musical recitals and productions, outings to places of interest as well as various holistic and complementary therapies.

These will, by definition, include contact with peers and people of different generations. As well as providing this programme of events, Balcombe stresses the critical importance of contact with friends and family to lengthen life.

The collateral benefits of these programmes are clear. There will be less use of the NHS, meaning those resources could be directed to other schemes to improve the quality of life of seniors.

And older people will have a healthier, happier and longer period to help younger people navigate through life. The benefit to lengthen life?goes beyond the bottom line.

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