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  • 08 Apr 2024 7:23 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Intergenerational programs: antidote to ageism?

    Read about the Intergenerational Speakers Series, a collaborative program of Calgary Association of Lifelong Learners (CALL) and Mount Royal University.

    Updated April 8, 2024

    Text Intergenerational Programs Antidote to Ageism? Calgary Association of Lifelong Learners. Group of young and older adults sitting at round tables

    In this month's Blog, I (Maureen Osis) look at the effects of Intergenerational Programs on ageism.  My guest author, Barbara Decker Pierce, describes a local program and some positive feedback from the participants. 

    First, a brief definition of some terms.

    What is Ageism?

    Ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think); prejudice (how we feel); and discrimination (how we act) towards others or oneself based on age. (Defined by the World Health Organization)

    People tend to think that ageism refers to "aging" or those who are "old". However, ageism results in stereotyping and discriminating against or in favour of any particular age group. Thinking that old people are frail or that young people are rude are both ageist views.

    The Geriatrician Robert Butler coined the term in 1968, and wrote that ageism highlights a few exaggerated characteristics of a particular age group. Furthermore, ageism assumes that these traits apply to everyone in that group.

    Ageism affects everyone. It is one of the most widespread and socially accepted forms of prejudice.

    Ageism and Seniors

    As you would expect,   ageism related to older people is highly influenced by cultural norms, but also by personal experiences and interactions with older persons.  Simply put, Western cultures have tended to undervalue their older population. In today's world, the portrayal of older adults in the media and social media is influential in shaping the views of younger people.

    A Canadian survey found 63% of older adults felt they had been treated unfairly based on their age. For some, it was related to employment; for others it was negative experiences with health care.

    So far, I have talked about ageism as negative stereotyping; however, "positive" or "benevolent" ageist views can also be held. Some people hold positive views about "seniors" as kind, dependable, affluent or wise. Just as negative ageism might contain some truth, the same applies to positive ageism. But not all older people are ill; not all older people are kind or wealthy.

    What is a "Generation"?

    Before looking at an intergenerational program, let's define the term "generation." Many of us might think about the generations in a family: grandparents, parents and children. 

    Demographers define generation as a group of people who are born and living at about the same time, regarded as a collective. You have likely heard the terms used for various generations: baby boomers, Gen X, or millennials.

    What are Intergenerational Programs?

    The National Council on Aging defines intergenerational programming as "activities or programs that increase cooperation, interaction or exchange between any two generations."

    Some examples are provided in the Resources at the end. 

    How do Intergenerational Programs Reduce Ageism?

    The World Health Organization identified three strategies to reduce ageism.

    1. policy and law
    2. educational activities, and
    3. intergenerational interventions.

    "Policy and law can address discrimination and inequality on the basis of age and protect the human rights of everyone, everywhere. Educational activities can enhance empathy, dispel misconceptions about different age groups and reduce prejudice by providing accurate information. Intergenerational interventions, which bring together people of different generations, can help reduce intergroup prejudice and stereotypes."
    World Health Organization, 2021

    Intergenerational Program in Calgary

    the intergenerational speaker series

    Guest Author Barbara Decker Pierce

    The Intergenerational Speaker Series (IGSS) program demonstrates one of the recommendations of the World Health Organization

    "Intergenerational interventions, which bring together people of different generations, can help reduce intergroup prejudice and stereotypes."

    A Little Background

    The idea for the Intergenerational Speaker Series (IGSS) was brought to me by Jocelyn Rempel, Chair of Older Adult Health in the Faculty of Nursing at Mount Royal University (MRU). She wanted to establish a program that would bring together university students and older adults in a learning environment. Jocelyn set out the design for the program and prepared a draft program proposal. She contacted me looking for a community partner such as Calgary Association of Lifelong Learners (CALL) to submit a funding application to the federal government New Horizon’s program. I found the idea interesting and Jocelyn's enthusiasm contagious. I also really liked her idea for the program with its emphasis on learning in intergenerational groups. I had worked at a large Ontario university as Director of the School of Social Work and just before retirement had been exploring ideas that would make our campus more age friendly. I knew the value of intergenerational relationships in my work with students. From my perspective as an older adult, contact with younger generations helped me connect with my younger self – a self that was in the formative stages of life, open to new ideas and experiences and optimistic about the possibilities of personal growth and societal change. I knew what those connections brought to my life and the potential value this type of program might have for others who didn’t have younger people in their lives. I also had a great deal of experience writing grant proposals and working with government agencies. I took the proposal to the CALL Board, and it agreed to proceed with the project.

    When the project was approved for funding, Jocelyn and I set up a planning committee and hired a part time coordinator. With New Horizon’s funding we were able to offer four events in the first year.

    One of the older adult participants in that year enjoyed the program so much she took it to a Calgary charitable foundation she was part of, and it agreed to provide funding for the second year. We planned five events for the 23-24 session and have delivered three of the five to date.

    The Experience so Far

    Jocelyn and I both believe that the program has far exceeded our initial expectations. It has consistently attracted a loyal following of older adults from both CALL and from some nearby residential settings for seniors. It has also involved many wonderful students, most of whom are studying nursing at MRU. While the nursing students attend as part of their program, the events are publicized across the MRU campus and any student is welcome to attend.

    We asked those attending to complete a feedback survey after each session and the comments from both groups have been consistently positive. The program has high degree of satisfaction among both older and younger participants.

    Here is a summary of the feedback from the four events last year (2023):

    What did you learn about intergenerational practice/communication that was new or surprising?

    • In terms of learning on intergenerational communication the most common response, across all event's intergenerational groups, was the respondents' realization that generations have much in common.
      • There didn't seem to be an age barrier
      • We have more in common than we have differences
      • How we could experience the same things despite age differences and backgrounds; we are comforted by the same things as well
      • We are all in the same boat.
    • There was some awareness of the tendency both groups have in stereotyping members of the other group and this was recognized as a problem.
      • The work against ageism happens at all ages and we all struggle
      • I learned about the different stereotypes that both older/younger generations feel about each other and how the stereotypes were broken the more they got to know about their stories/expectations
    • The students felt that the seniors had valuable stories to tell and life experiences that were interesting. They felt there was value in listening to them.
      • I certainly enjoyed and appreciated the emphasis of simply getting to know people and listen to their stories, learn from them
      • I enjoyed getting to know the seniors at the event
      • That so many elders feel/think the same and so many have great wisdom that us younger people could use
      • How strong and courageous the older generations are
    • The seniors were impressed by the qualities of the young people they met. 
    • Delighted to be reminded of how articulate and thoughtful today’s students are
    • Not actually surprising but I was inspired by the depth of understanding of the young people at our table
    • I am always so impressed by the students I meet at these events
    • How refreshing it is to share time with the younger generation
    • The understanding that young people and older adults can form meaningful friendships.
    • Young people and senior people can be friends finding commonalities
    • How easily conversation flows
    • A great opportunity to engage in conversation with a new friend
    • I was able to communicate with a younger person and understand her experiences and emotions

    On the part of the older adults, I have heard from many of them that contact with younger people has given them a sense of optimism about the "younger generations".

    Events consistently attract 100 or more participants with many of the seniors being loyal repeat attenders. I see this as an indicator of a positive outcome as well. 

    Barbara Decker Pierce enjoying an activity with 
    a student at an event in the Intergenerational
    Speaker Series.

    Photo young student with older adult doing activity together at a conference

    Personally, my favourite comment from the students is this:

    "I  wasn't sure what to expect from this event but I'm really glad I came.  It has made me think about my attitudes toward older people and the biases that I came with. Thanks."

    While each event features a speaker, evaluations from both students and seniors consistently identify the small group intergenerational discussion sessions as the most valuable and memorable part of the event. 

    • Being able to talk to older adults specifically about this topic to gain more understanding
    • Hearing personal stories and experiences from individuals who experience it (ageism) firsthand
    • The communication with my table was eye opening and very inspirational. It was my favourite part
    • Sharing thoughts and ideas together talking and getting to know people at my table
    • The opportunity to speak to others in an authentic way. Very meaningful and inspiring

    Participation in this program has only enhanced CALL’s ability to enact its mandate. At an IGSS event everyone was given the opportunity to view the world through other eyes. It offers CALL members another way to learn – not just from speakers or discussions with other older adults like themselves but in conversation with others who often have very different life experiences and perspectives to share. Learning intergenerationally is a win-win-win situation! It provides important benefits to the older adult, to the student and to CALL as an organization.

    If you live in the Calgary area and want to participate in the

    Intergenerational Speaker Series, you can find more information and register here (Free).

    The next event will be held May 22, 2024 from 11am-1pm, Mount Royal University, Lincoln Park Room.

    Registration is free and a light lunch is included.

    The theme is: Pathways to Nature: Connectedness and Health


    Maureen Osis 

    Maureen retired from her career -- first as a Gerontological Nurse and then a Marriage/Family Therapist in private practice working with mid-life and older adults. Maureen has published numerous articles and books related to her professions. She is a member of CALL because she is passionate about learning. She is a volunteer with CALL, doing social media and the primary author of the blog, because she likes to face new challenges

    Guest Author

    Barbara Decker Pierce

    CALL President, 2023-2024

    Barbara joined CALL in 2020 after moving to Calgary to be close to family. After retirement she had been actively involved in a lifelong learning program in London, Ontario and was excited to find CALL here in Calgary. As well as supporting personal growth, she thought joining CALL would be a good way to connect with some kindred spirits, learn about Calgary and find a new volunteer opportunity.

    During her tenure as Director of the School of Social at King’s College Western University she explored ideas to make the campus more age-friendly. Using her experience in writing grant proposals, Barbara worked with Jocelyn Rempel, Chair of Older Adult Health, Faculty of Nursing, Mount Royal University to seek funding for an Intergenerational Speaker Series. Successful in getting a New Horizons grant, the collaborative program with CALL and MRU, launched in the fall, 2023.


    Learn more about membership in CALL.


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    Ageism Awareness Day, American Society on Aging

    Discussion Guide on Ageism in Canada


    Age Friendly Edmonton:  Intergenerational Tool Kit

    American Society on Aging. Intergenerational Programs are Key to Combating Ageism. Generations

    Cyber Seniors  An intergenerational volunteer model
    Founded in 2015 by the creators of the award-winning documentary film CYBER-SENIORS, this non-profit organization provides older adults with tech-training using an intergenerational, volunteer model. Young people are provided with lessons and learning activities to train them to act as digital mentors and older adults gain access to effective technology training and intergenerational communities that keep them socially connected and engaged.

    Global Intergenerational Week

    Annual campaign celebrating all things intergenerational. The campaign looks to inspire individuals, groups, organisations, local/national government, and NGOs to fully embrace intergenerational practice, connecting people of different generations in intentional, mutually beneficial activities. It is an opportunity to celebrate good practice, ideas, moments, and opportunities local to us, where different age groups come together and intergenerational friendships are formed! It provides an opportunity to share and discuss, on a global platform, creative and effective new ways of connecting generations.

    Intergenerational Speaker Series

    Collaborative program of Mount Royal University, Calgary and Calgary Association of Lifelong Learners. (CALL)

    i2i Intergenerational Society of Canada

    i2i Intergenerational Society was created in 2008 by educators, health care workers, older adults, community, youth and parents, to promote intergenerational programs and learning opportunities, and to assist in developing rich and sustainable connections between generations.

    The ‘i2i’ is an abbreviation of our purpose, an ‘invitation (i) to intergenerational immersion (2i)’.

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