Arts programs in the aging community have received a lot of press lately.
Retirement communities, assisted-living centers and especially memory-care facilities have incorporated visual arts activities, dance classes, music lessons and more to enhance the lives — and even overall health of — their residents.
And now there’s another trend in senior housing that’s taking off nationwide — and right here in the Twin Cities.
It’s called intergenerational engagement and it’s a rising star in the realm of housing centers that cater to older adults.
KinderCare Learning Centers, a Portland, Ore.-based early childhood education provider, and Brookdale Senior Living, a Tennessee-based assisted living and retirement community provider, have partnered to bring together some of Minnesota’s youngest and oldest residents.
As part of the program, children from local KinderCare centers are making monthly visits to seniors with Alzheimer’s or dementia at Brookdale centers around the Twin Cities.
Kids from multiple KinderCare locations will visit Brookdale locations in Blaine, Eagan, Edina, North Oaks and West St. Paul.
In the coming months, the program will expand to five other metro-area Brookdale communities.
The new program is the brainchild of Kimberly Baar, director of the Shoreview KinderCare center, who last fall forged learning relationships between her students and a local memory-care center.
It was a natural fit: Kids were able to visit with elders as well as engage in activities together, including crafts that required at least some fine motor skills.
“This is a simple program any school can do,” Baar said. “The children not only gain an appreciation for older people, but a self-esteem boost from being able to assist others. The seniors, in turn, are able to form connections with people outside of their immediate family and caregivers, thus lessening the isolation that often accompanies old age.”
Before heading over to the center, Baar talked with the children about how to treat older adults respectfully, share stories and recognize when both sides might need a break.
“Our teachers were proud of how compassionate and empathetic their students were — how engaged they became with the seniors,” Baar said. “The children were also proud of themselves and the positive impact they had on others in their community.”
Around the country, other similar programs have earned praise, including a senior-care facility in Seattle recently featured in The Atlantic for its intergenerational programming.
Residents there — who boast an average age of 92 — spend five days a week in a 300,000-square-foot facility with 125 children, ages 0 to 5.
In Minnesota, there’s Olu’s Center, a daycare center in North Minneapolis that offers intergenerational programing.
Entrepreneur Gloria Freeman — the founder of Olu’s Home, an organization that provides housing and in-home care for older adults and people with developmental disabilities and mental illness in Twin Cities — founded Olu’s Center in 2015.
In 2016, the U.S Small Business Administration named Freeman Minnesota Small Business Person of the Year.
“You’re going to see more and more intergenerational programs as people live to be older, and more young people are being born,” Freeman told the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal.
Indeed, Augustana Care — a non-profit organization that provides housing, health care and community-based services to older generations — recently acquired a historic three-bedroom home adjacent to its Chapel View campus in Hopkins to accommodate a different kind of intergenerational living.
Residents at the home, known as Stepping Stones, will include one older adult looking for new living arrangements, plus two other residents who must be students or professionals.
Priority consideration will be given to applicants who are either studying or already established in fields such as nursing, psychology, social work, geriatrics and spiritual care.
“We are repurposing this beautiful home in a way that allows us to remain true to our history, while starting an exciting, intergenerational program,” said Augustana’s regional housing director, Mary Jo Thorne.
Learning about seniors
Beth Landers, Brookdale’s business development director, said intergenerational programs give participants valuable opportunities for being around older adults.
In the case of the Brookdale program, that can include adults with various forms of dementia.
“It allows children to feel comfortable with their own grandparents and gives a platform for dining-room conversations with Mom and Dad about Grandma or Grandpa,” Landers said. “By removing the stigma and fear of aging and dementia with children, we are providing a platform for these conversations and general awareness.”
Baar said children and adults, even those with memory issues, do quite well together.
“The elderly are living in the moment,” she said. “They’re all about the fun they’re having right then and there — just like kids.”
Baar hopes other Minnesota schools, preschools and childcare facilities will start their own intergenerational programs.
“It can be as simple as taking craft activities from the center over to local nursing homes and inviting residents to join in,” she said. “These are wonderful opportunities to help children make an impact on another person’s life. My hope is that by the time students leave our center, they will have learned to have compassion and understanding for the elderly for the rest of their adult lives.”
Sarah Jackson is the editor of Minnesota Good Age. Send story ideas or submissions — especially stories on the topic of senior housing — to [email protected].