I want you to think about your grandparents. When I think of mine, I think about the smells of my grandma’s cooking, the way my grandpa knew everything there is to know about airplanes and how they suspiciously had way fewer rules than my parents… Grandparents are a blessing, right? Now what if I told you that a recent survey in the UK found that most weeks, 225,000 seniors age 65 and over spoke to no one at all. And 2.6 million seniors spoke to (AT MOST) 3 non-strangers.
Communicating with seniors is important because loneliness has detrimental effects on overall health, the older someone gets, the more likely it is that they have lost most of their family and friends, and intergenerational communication has benefits for both the young and old. Everyone in this room has a chance to make an impact on a seniors life, whether they’re your grandparent or not. For the past five years, I have worked in a retirement and assisted living facility, interacting with a community of 300 seniors every day. I have witnessed firsthand the differences in elderly people that have regular communication with loved ones, and those who are not so lucky. Please consider making a simple phone call to your grandparents on a regular basis.
“Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco have released a study that confirms we need each other to keep going… They followed 1,600 adults with an average age of 71 and found that people who are lonely have a higher mortality rate. Companionship may be more important than income or health.” In my experience, residents that move from a home where they have spent most of their time alone and isolated to the community where I work, it is amazing to see the changes when they are now living and interacting with others in similar situations, eating together in the dining rooms, playing games, and enjoying each others company. Other factors that affect health like income and disease can be out of our control and hard to improve. Creating connection is something we are all capable of and it can bring the most significant change.
By the time someone is 80 or 90 years old, there is a good chance many of their siblings, former classmates, close friends, and family members have passed away. Their options for people to call or talk to can be very limited. Additionally, according to a 2002 survey conducted by the US Department of Transportation, 40% of elderly people, which is over 5 billion seniors, no longer drive. Just yesterday, a coworker and I visited one of our residents in the hospital. It wasn’t more than 30 minutes, but the fact that we took time out of our busy day to bring her favorite ice cream and talk with her meant the world. She called me a few hours after we had left to tell me again how much it meant to her since her daughter lives hours away. It is up to us to take advantage of our resources to connect with our grandparents, it’s much easier for us than them to make it happen.
Intergenerational communication isn’t just about the old people, it has a variety of benefits for the young people too. Talking and interacting with young people can help seniors keep their mind active by learning about new trends, technology, and changes happening in our modern world. This can even help delay the effects of dementia and Alzheimer’s. On the other hand, young people can learn valuable lessons from their grandparent’s wisdom. Grandparents haven’t always been old, they are complex people with a lifetime of stories. A lot of them are cooler than you would think. Both generations develop a greater sense of empathy and understanding of not only themselves but the world around them when they spend time together.
I hope you are beginning to realize how important communicating with seniors is, because loneliness has tangible negative health effects, the older someone gets the more likely it is that they have lost most of their family and friends, and intergenerational communication benefits everyone. Biological grandparent or not, there are elderly people everywhere ready for a call or a visit. There are 10,080 minutes in a week. We spend so much time of that time talking with friends and scrolling through social media. This week, set aside 5 or 10 minutes to call your grandparents – or better yet plan a face to face visit. They will definitely appreciate sharing your time and I bet you will too.