Aging in Style: Intergenerational models are a win-win

A documentary called “The Growing Season” will make a debut in New York City next month. This film, directed by Evan Briggs, was shot over the course of a year at the Intergenerational Learning Center. The center is a daycare and preschool housed within Providence Mount Saint Vincent, a senior community in West Seattle. The film features interactions between senior residents of “the Mount” and the children attending the center.

My son, who is now a high school senior, attended the center from ages three to five. He still remembers it. And I certainly remember the wonderful interactions between residents and preschoolers. They created art together, celebrated holidays, and hosted special events. Some of the more able-bodied seniors could be seen rocking babies in the nursery. It made this first-time mom feel better about going back to work.

In addition to the “feel goods” for parents, there’s evidence that seniors benefit by being surrounded by young people. By spending time with people of differing ages and abilities, children are beneficiaries as well.

The film asks, “If given the chance, with the present moment being the only shared realm, what can the very young and the very old offer each other?” There are certainly moments of amusement, joy, and patience but, at times, the impact changes lives for a lifetime.

Differing ages can interact

There are other communities here and around the nation and world that embrace this “intergenerational model.”

At Wesley Homes in Des Moines, Washington, students from Highline College get to live in the senior community at reduced rental rates; this is in exchange for volunteering within the community. Several students offer tech support to senior residents; others help with daily tasks that seniors might find difficult. Reviews by the residents are glowing; daily, these young people are positively impacting lives within the senior community.

Here’s another example: There’s a senior community in our area that has “adopted” a little league baseball team. Many of the community residents attend every practice. Because so many residents want to attend the team’s games, a second bus must be rented on game days.

The baseball players have become regular visitors to the community and the coaches have sought advice from senior residents. Incidentally, they were one of the winningest teams in the area. An 89-year-old resident who, as a young man, played minor league baseball, never missed a single game or practice. He summed it, saying, “This relationship is clearly a win-win.”

Continuing education for seniors

In addition to bringing young people into senior communities, we are seeing a push towards retirees moving into younger communities like college towns.

Colleges and universities recognize the benefit of having older adults on campus. These institutions offer “lifelong learning” opportunities through organizations like the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Washington. In addition to on-campus programming, the institute takes learning programs out to area senior communities.

Studies in aging and brain health show staying mentally active and socially engaged has long-term emotional and health benefits. Yes, this can be accomplished by engaging with contemporaries. But many retirees, especially those “forever-young” baby boomers, choose to be around younger people whenever possible.

Giving and getting

Many boomers and other retirees are also actively involved in giving back through tutoring, mentoring, and volunteering. Young, or not so young, volunteering always does the heart good. If you’re having a bad day, challenge yourself to do something nice for someone. It may not completely fix your day but it certainly helps.

To quote a facilitator featured in the “The Growing Season” documentary, “Whether you’re young or old, there is only one time to be happy; that time is now.” Therefore, what will you do to find your happy? Will you find it through the wisdom of an elder or the joy of a child? Either way, remember: The present is our only shared realm. Let’s make it a win-win.

Karen Pfeiffer Bush is a senior living specialist and owner of two Seattle-based companies, Studio 65 ( and Housewarming ( Contact Karen at (206) 719-1662 or email her at