Intergenerational Living with a Purpose

Pizza for Grandpa

Mary Steele, 82, spends her days giving rides to children who may have missed the school bus, or teens who need a ride to the mall. She plays trucks with a 5-year-old boy whose mother is at work, and talks to neighbors about their jobs and families. Each month, she enjoys a gathering where 50 or so residents, ages 2 to 82, mingle and catch up. Steele and others share soup, fresh bread, and hugs. Steele is one of 53 older women, along with 10 men, living at Treehouse, an intergenerational community in Easthampton, Massachusetts, designed to support children who are in state foster care, as well as their foster and adoptive parents.

Another resident, Rosa-Lee Young, 70, decided to move to Treehouse even though she had no ties to western Massachusetts. Young enjoys being part of a family with five children, babysitting, attending birthday parties and sharing holidays. “This community provides the opportunity for me to be involved and make friends,” said Young, 70, who has lived there since 2006.

At Treehouse, the “elders” range in age from 58 to 88. They come from around the country to this affordable housing community (rent is only $830/month) in western Massachusetts, with the desire to make a difference in the lives of traumatized children — and their parents. Treehouse is also home to 40 children and 17 parents. The 11-acre development intersperses a dozen townhouses for the families with 48 senior cottages; there’s also a community center with a library, kitchen, and common room.

Steele and Young concur that helping families at the Treehouse gives them a sense of belonging and satisfaction. And it’s not just the children that receive help from the elders. It goes both ways. In an intergenerational living situation, older residents get a network of care. “It may look like the kids are getting all the time, energy and resources. But if the elders need help, the kids step up,” says Judy Cockerton, a former foster parent who opened Treehouse in 2006, based on Hope Meadows, the first community of this kind, located in Rantoul, Illinois.

Advantages of Intergenerational Living

Intergenerational living has become a growing trend across the United States, and there are some benefits to both seniors and children, as follows:

Benefits to Seniors

Less depression and loneliness: Active, involved older adults with close intergenerational connections consistently report much less depression, better physical health, and higher degrees of life satisfaction. They tend to be happier with their present life and more hopeful for the future.

Learning from each other: Children can teach elders lots of things – such as how to use new technology! A loving, supportive older adult can give children someone to talk with – someone who’s “been there” but now, with the benefit of hindsight, can help put issues into perspective.

Feeling younger: Children can help older people, particularly those facing health challenges or other losses feel younger, and see the world anew again, through a child’s eyes.

Making a difference: Seniors in intergenerational living have an opportunity to leave a powerful legacy and to make a difference in the lives of a child.

Benefits to Children

• Developmental Benefits: Through interaction with the seniors at Treehouse, children develop roots, a history, and a sense of continuity and perspective. In addition, children develop higher self-esteem, better emotional and social skills (including an ability to withstand peer pressure), and can even have better grades in school.

• Mentoring: Older adult mentors can make a significant difference in a child’s life. The involvement of a reliable, caring adult helps children develop life skills, and builds self-esteem and confidence. One study showed that when a child is mentored by an adult, they are: 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs; 27% less likely to begin using alcohol; 52% less likely to skip school.

• Attention and engagement: Children can get time and attention from an older adult that tired, busy parents often can’t always give them.

• Someone safe to talk with and confide in: Seniors have a lot of power and ability to influence a troubled or confused child in a positive way.

• Learning: Knowledge, skills, and attitudes children pick up from seniors tend to stick with them through life more than those picked up from other sources.

• Empathy: By getting to know seniors, children look beyond ageist stereotypes, become more comfortable with aging, and have more empathy for others.

When Assistance is Needed

Most people want to stay in their home or in an intergenerational living setting for as long as possible. If you or a loved one cannot live independently and are showing signs that living alone is a strain, it may be time to consider other alternatives.

Whether the outcome is in-home care, assisted living, or nursing home care in the future, it is always wise to plan ahead. Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection is the process of protecting assets from having to be spent down in connection with entry into assisted living or nursing home care, while also helping ensure that you and your loved ones get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life.

Fairfax Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 540-479-1435
Rockville Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 301-519-8041
DC Medicaid Asset Protection Attorney: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.