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LINKS: Lessons to Inspire Networking with Kids and Seniors

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The Aging Institute of UPMC Senior Services and the University of Pittsburgh recently had the opportunity to work with students at the PACE School and residents at Seneca Place, a senior community facility, to create an intergenerational program.

Carol Burgman, an instructor at PACE, a school located in the greater Pittsburgh area and licensed to serve children with emotional challenges or Autism, had been very interested in having her students visit with older adults. Shewanted to first provide some education to ensure that her students understood some of the challenges facing the residents at long-term facilities.

She contacted the Aging Institute to request a sensitivity training that would teach students about changes that occur as seniors age.

Designing the Program

Kelly Covone-Henning, MA, ACC, Aging Educator and Community Resource Coordinator for the Aging Institute, developed LINKS: Lessons to Inspire Networking with Kids and Seniors, a curriculum of interactive lessons designed to encourage the understanding of age-related changes and to promote networking through activities between kids and seniors in a long-term care setting.

This intergenerational program was presented to 23 students in grades 4 through 8 at the Pace School and was geared to helping the children gain a sense of value and self-worth, enhance social skills, and engage in on-going relationships.

Through an interactive presentation and hands-on exercises, students were given the opportunity to experience sensory impairments that seniors may encounter as they age including:

  • Mobility issues
  • Visual impairments
  • Auditory difficulties
  • Cognitive changes

For example, students used special eye glasses to understand the yellowing of lenses that many seniors experience as they age.

Similarly, tape was wrapped around the students’ fingers and they were asked to pick up small items in order to gain a better understanding of arthritic conditions. During gym class, the students also worked with different mobility equipment that many seniors use, such as wheelchairs, walkers, and canes.

Making Friends and Learning Communications Skills

Another important aspect of the training was to provide opportunities for networking between the students and residents through small and large group activities.

While at the senior facility, students heard from Cassie Wolf, Director of Activities at Seneca Place, regarding communication tools and learned about some of the recreational activities at the center. Students were able to participate in activities with residents and even discussed having the residents visit the PACE School for a concert or a party.

Wolf later commented, “The students did an excellent job and the residents loved having them here. The students really brought smiles to the residents’ faces and there was definitely a lot of laughter.”

Fostering Lasting Connections

Following the visit to Seneca Place, Carol Burgman, recounted the trip saying,

“Many of the students returned from the visit with engaging stories about their experiences and new acquaintances. The students focused more intently on the seniors as they worked to plant flowers and play games."

I thought the course was well designed, raising awareness and promoting the dignity of aging individuals. I felt that this particular approach would be effective in encouraging students to consider the needs and feelings of older individuals within the community and yielded excellent results on two levels.

First, the students were comfortable with the older adults, equipment and in the environment. Secondly, the students felt prepared to interact with residents by greeting them appropriately and offering assistance as needed."