Helping Break the Cycle of Ageism Can Lie in the Hands of Today’s Youth
In today’s society there is a prominent focus on ageism, healthy aging and improved quality of life for the aging population; however, the focus does not extend to those who are living in nursing homes. Six out of ten Americans would rather die than to have to live in a nursing home; however, hundreds of thousands of the 65+ population do reside in a nursing homes. The resistance of not wanting to live there could be that the perceptions of nursing homes is that they are just places people go to die, and are populated with those who have little left to give. That simply is not true.
Society must realize just because someone lives in a nursing home, it does not mean that they have given up the desire to learn, feel valued, contribute to society, and live the rest of their lives with dignity and a sense of meaning. Just because they have a roof over their head, are fed and receive health care, doesn’t mean that society should assume that their needs are being met.
In a research study titled “Does Intergenerational Contact Reduce Ageism?” the authors, Julie Christian, Rhiannon Turner, Natasha Holt, Michael Larking and Joseph Cotler, found evidence that “youth who have contact with the elderly can break stereotypes and instill positive attitudes toward aging and the elderly. Participants need to have time to get to know one another so that there is potential for empathy, to disclose personal information and to work on communication so that the interactions are comfortable.” This description of successful intergenerational programs perfectly.
The Bessie’s Hope youth are taught that the elders with whom they will be cultivating relationships are the individuals upon whose knowledge, skills, talents and hard work our communities were built. Also that the elders have amazing life stories to share, but there is no one to listen. Our youth are eager to listen and learn from them, because of our training. This is important because the residents like telling stories from former times again and again because they live in a world of memories from the past. These stories, which stabilize identity, are important as the elders generate their sense of living from their reflection of the past.
The following are quotes from Bessie’s Hope youth participants:
- “When I learned I had to go visit nursing home residents, I was really frightened and anxious. But after our first visit I saw that they were just people like us and were actually fun!”
- “I love these residents. They are my inspiration.”
- “I didn’t think I would have anything in common with the elders, but it turned out that wasn’t true.
- “I though the nursing home residents would be boring and dumb. But they are really smart and fun. I look forward to my visits with them.”
- “Participating in Bessie’s Hope has helped me have more respect for the elderly and that we need them and they need us.”