The importance of bringing generations together

01.5.19

This week, the Commissioner issued a joint statement with the Children’s Commissioner and Future Generations Commissioner to highlight the importance of intergenerational activities. In her latest blog, she looks at how these kind of activities could help to end ageism, stop abuse and make our communities more age friendly...

At first glance, the links between intergenerational activities – such as children visiting care homes, older people visiting schools, or intergenerational choirs – and my priorities as Commissioner to end ageism, stop abuse and enable everyone to age well, as set out in my recently published strategy, may not be obvious.

But these kind of activities are vital, not only for the benefits they bring to the individuals involved, but also because of the role they can play in helping to make progress against these key issues.

We know, for example, that ageism occurs more easily when something known as ‘othering’ occurs, when individuals disassociate themselves from growing older or being an older person (whether now or in the future). This makes it easier for individuals (or society) to stereotype older people and hold negative attitudes towards them.

Evidence shows, however, that this is less likely to happen where there are relationships in place, such as intergenerational friendships. That’s one of the many reasons why it’s so important to provide more opportunities for older and younger people to spend time together in a meaningful way, to allow these kinds of relationships to develop.

Intergenerational activities could also play a role in helping to prevent the abuse of older people, particularly in settings that might be less visible within our communities, such as care homes. Opening up care homes to visitors of all ages, including children, would not only allow intergenerational friendships to develop and for care homes and their residents to be seen as part of their communities, but would also mean greater numbers of people who were able to recognise when something wasn’t right, who could recognise the potential signs of abuse and raise concerns.

If abuse in any setting is underpinned by secrecy and isolation, as is so often the case, the more we can do to ensure that older people are engaged with others, and part of other people’s lives, the better.

Alongside work to develop intergenerational initiatives and create opportunities for our older and younger generations to spend time with each other, it’s also important that communities throughout Wales can support intergenerational contact to happen naturally.

A key part of my work to enable everyone to age well is to support the development of age-friendly communities, defined by the World Health Organisation as communities that encourage social participation, respect and inclusion, and provide housing, transport, outdoor spaces and services that meet older people’s needs.

Age-friendly communities enable us all to be part of our communities as we age, to remain active and engaged within them, rather than being disabled by them. When communities are age-friendly they are ‘friendly’ to people of all ages and people with different needs, whether they are older people, people with disabilities, parents with young children, or children themselves. These kinds of communities encourage greater interaction between people of different ages and people with different needs, something that helps intergenerational relationships to develop and thrive.

2012 was the European Year for Active Ageing and Solidarity Between the Generations, with a wide range of intergenerational activities taking place across Europe. But more recently, we’ve seen our older and younger generations pitted against one another and signs that resentment between generations is beginning to grow. We need to rekindle the idea of solidarity between generations and bring people from different generations together so we can learn from each other, work together, challenge myths and stereotypes and celebrate all of the things we have in common, the things that unite us all.