Last year, during one of the most precarious periods of the pandemic, my 13-year-old daughter wasn’t able to see her 92-year-old grandmother at her assisted living community for well over six months when outside visitation was completely shut down. Prior to this, she would see her frequently, often a couple of times a week, so it was quite a shock to her system.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity and once all residents and staff were fully vaccinated, restrictions gradually began to lift, and families were given the ‘green light’ to visit once again.
On that day, both were bursting-at-the-seams excited to see each other, in an outside socially distanced visit on the patio.
I sat back and watched as my teenage daughter peppered her grandmother with all kinds of questions, making up for lost time, as I noticed both of their eyes squinting in undeniable smiles behind their masks. The conversation soon turned to the major milestones of my mom’s life as she asked her a myriad of questions ranging from who the presidents were in her lifetime, to the wars she lived through, the evolution of race relations over the decades – even illnesses her generation faced when she walked in younger shoes.
I listened to my mom recount how she experienced the polio epidemic and how it reminded her so much of the worry and uncertainty of this present-day time of Covid, especially when she and the other residents had been sequestered inside their senior community for months on end, locked away from treasured family and friends.
I watched as my mom paused to carefully consider the answers to each of her granddaughter’s thoughtful questions. Then I saw her become lost in time as she danced through the rich memories of her past, some a bit foggy – and others with great precision and detail.
It took my breath away.
As life expectancies continue to rise, today’s population of aging adults is the largest the world has ever known. And these older generations have so much to teach us, just as the younger ones offer them countless lessons in return.
The benefits of socialization for aging parents are undeniable. And research is beginning to show that when older and younger groups interact, nothing but positivity can result.
Benefits of socialization for aging parents
- Improved mental health – When older adults socialize with others – especially younger individuals or family members, they experience less anxiety or depression. In fact, mental and emotional health is only strengthened and buoyed by these important connections.
- Greater self-esteem – Older adults report decreased feelings of loneliness and an improved sense of well-being when interacting with younger people. These ‘perks’ are essential in improving their overall quality of life, especially day-to-day.
- Improved physical health – Socializing with people of all ages also has shown to reap many physical rewards including reducing blood pressure, decreasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, reducing the inflammation of arthritis and some cancers, and even improving bone health.
- Lower risk for dementia – Cognitive decline can dramatically improve when older adults socialize with younger generations. In particular, studies show the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of dementia more than doubles in patients who are lonely, compared to those who aren’t.
- Promotes a sense of “purpose” – Spending time with others, especially younger people, helps older adults find meaning in their lives. When people are around others they love, it propels them to improve their self-care and look forward to the future.
Benefits of socialization for younger people
- A better sense of self – Similarly, children or young adults depend on older adults to help enhance their emotional and social development. Grandparents, in particular, help model a sense of perspective and community through their history and their ‘roots’ which helps promote teach the importance of self-identity.
- Increased confidence – Older mentors offer stability to younger people. In addition to teaching important life skills and enhancing children’s self-esteem, they can also have a strong influence on the importance of avoiding risky behaviors such as experimenting with drugs and alcohol, engaging in bullying behavior, or neglecting their academic responsibilities.
- Feeling of safety – Older adults can help children feel like they have someone they can trust or confide in, often when their parents may not be as available, or are busy with their work or other obligations. Grandparents can be an important safety net for younger people to reach out to, often when they need it most.
- Educational benefits – Many younger people can be exposed to a wealth of new things when older adults share their life experiences, interests or hobbies, or ideas. Especially their philosophies or ‘life lessons’ can often resonate much more when they come from a grandparent or other trusted source.
Older adults are our living textbooks and our treasured family heirlooms. Younger generations hold the promise and exuberance of youth. The countless lessons and gifts these two groups can offer one another is immeasurable.
Like my daughter and her grandmother. Two kindred spirits, a mere 79 years apart.