How can intergenerational living benefit university students and seniors?
As part of an innovative pilot study and new experiential learning course this past school year, two UNBC students spent four months living in Northern Health’s Gateway Lodge, a residential care facility in Prince George, engaging with and learning from the lodge’s residents. The success of the pilot last fall led to its continuation for the Winter 2019 semester and moving forward into the 2019-2020 school year.
Led by UNBC’s Dr. Shannon Freeman and Prof. Dawn Hemingway, the Intergenerational Activities for Growth and Engagement (InterAGE) project is a unique research partnership between UNBC and Northern Health. Students were provided with accommodation at Gateway Lodge for the school semester, living in areas not allocated for resident use. They spent part of each week over the course of their four-month semester connecting with the lodge’s residents during meals and different recreational events.
“The fall pilot with the UNBC students and residents of Gateway exceeded all of our expectations,” explained Dr. Shannon Freeman, assistant professor, School of Nursing, UNBC. “The UNBC special topics course, taught on-site at Gateway Lodge, challenged the students to be reflective and to see aging not only through their own eyes but through the eyes of the residents that they ended up developing close connections with.”
“The residents have absolutely loved to tell their life stories and relate their experiences to me. And I also enjoyed the opportunity to share my stories with them,” said Zachary Fleck, a third-year International Studies student who participated in the project during the winter semester. ““I think young people make unique conversational catalysts in this way. There is something exciting about relating stories across intergenerational divides for all involved. I think the more opportunity we give young people to have these experiences, the more they would see the value in intergenerational interactions.”
“There have been many wonderful activities enjoyed and relationships forged throughout this project, which has enriched the quality of life for all our participants.” said Jason Jaswal, former Director, Long Term Care and Support Services – Prince George, Northern Health. “One aspect that I think is really important is that the students also experienced some uncomfortable moments and interactions that come with residing in a care home, which can be a lonely place and socially isolating.”
“The experience all around has been very positive, and is a reminder that older adults have as much life experience and expertise to share with young people as students have to share with seniors,” said Prof. Dawn Hemingway. “The research component was also critical and will allow us to move forward with further co-housing initiatives knowing we’re on solid footing.”
The InterAGE research project is one of the first of its kind in B.C. to compile evidence-based results on intergenerational living, as well as one of the first in the country.