Have you ever noticed how the light begins to come back into the eyes of an elderly person when a child enters the room? Actually the light tends to come back into the eyes of a person of almost any age when a child enters (unless, of course, the child is behaving disrespectfully). There is an unidentifiable quality about children that can bring life, freshness and joy to the coldest of hearts, or those hearts that have nearly given up. In America, it is quite common to segregate different age groups. We tend to make sure that the elderly are shut away from the noise & annoyance of “normal life”. Those in their working years are closed into offices or various jobs. In school, each age group is educated alongside their peers with age being the primary consideration. But what if we discover that there are other ways of doing things that can greatly benefit all involved?
There is a new movement in some countries to combine nursing or aging homes with day care facilities or pre-school classroom areas. Science is beginning to recognize that the complete & total separation of the ages is not always as beneficial as was once thought. These arrangements do not only benefit the elderly, but let's look at some of the benefits to them to start the conversation. Some of the noted benefits are a new interest & involvement in daily life activities when seniors are involved with children throughout the day. They are encouraged, by the children & in a non-intrusive way, to engage with their surroundings & enter conversations. There is also an increase in physical action. Whether it's throwing a soft ball back & forth, or holding the handle of a jump rope, they can still be a part of the physical activities going on around them without being in danger of being hurt. Their interactions with children also offer them unconditional love, since children are naturally accepting of others who are different from them, unless they've been taught otherwise.
Benefits to the children include learning how to behave with people who have physical limitations that might cause them to get hurt, learning of respect & also learning about how life used to be. These things also, inadvertently, benefit the elderly, too. If they feel as if they can benefit the children & society through character building lessons, life stories & care that they show to the children, it can give them a tremendous sense of purpose.
It may not be possible to incorporate an official facility that involves children in the lives of those in elder care, but there are things that can benefit them greatly that we can all do.
- Bring a child the next time you visit an elderly loved one. Prepare the child & your loved on so that they're not surprised. Perhaps give them each a bit of information about the other so that they'll naturally be able to ask questions.
- Organize an event with children for the benefit of the elderly. Whether it is an outdoor croquet game on the yard of an assisted living facility, a poetry reading, a recital or Christmas caroling, these one time events can be something for them to look forward to & are good opportunities for young children to have the experience of a care facility situation.
- Organize an adopt a grandparent program, or get involved in one that already exists. This gives the child & the senior the opportunity to get to know one another much better & to share things that are important to one another & learn from each other.
- If you have the opportunity to lead classes of children, encourage them to make cards & gifts for those seniors in your community that are being hospitalized. Many times that time period can be a very lonely time in an elderly person's life & cards & gifts from children can help to brighten their day.
It doesn't take much to involve children in the lives of the aging people we love, but it does require intentionality. Quality of life often happens when we're in situations that are out of the ordinary for us, but can bring about genuine growth. When all ages can benefit from interactions like this, why would we rob anyone of the growth that can occur? Be a facilitator for that kind of growth in your community & see all of the good that will come from it!