Intergenerational Relationships: An Antidote to Ageism in Canada

BC CRN presents a Spotlight on Ageism - image of older woman with young boy looking at a mobile phone

When the UN and WHO released the landmark Global Report on Ageism in March, 2021, they declared combating ageism as one of three action areas for the Decade of Healthy Ageing (2021–2030). How society thinks, feels and acts towards people based on their age stigmatizes older people, resulting in poor health and economic wellbeing. Intergenerational programming is an effective antidote to the ageism epidemic.

What is Ageism?

According to the Global Report on Ageism, ageism refers to the stereotypes (how we think), prejudice (how we feel) and discrimination (how we act) directed towards people on the basis of their age. It can be institutional, interpersonal or self-directed.

“Ageism starts in childhood and is reinforced over time. From an early age, children pick up cues from those around them about their culture’s stereotypes and prejudices, which are soon internalized. People then use these stereotypes to make inferences and to guide their feelings and behaviours towards people of different ages and towards themselves,” the Global Report says. 

How Does Ageism Show Up?

Ageism rears its head in many ways. Seniors are often judged as deaf, frail and incompetent. Older workers may be marginalized in the workplace. Many people feel unheard in the healthcare system where practitioners and family members often dismiss their concerns or, worse, neglect them in facilities. These situations can make people feel lonely, vulnerable and depressed, leading to abuse or neglect, including self-neglect.

In a review of 422 studies on ageism and health from around the world, 95.5 percent of the studies found ageism negatively impacted the health of older adults through structural (e.g., hindering access to health care, exclusion from health research) and individual effects (e.g., contributing to mental and physical illness, risky health behaviours).

In a separate study, 80% of Canadians agreed with the statement, “adults 75 and older are seen as less important and are more often ignored than younger generations,” while 51 percent agreed that “ageism is the most tolerated social prejudice when compared to gender or race-based discrimination.”

Intergenerational Programs Reduce Ageism in Canada

The UN and WHO identified three strategies to reduce ageism:

  • Policies and laws 
  • Educational interventions 
  • Investments in intergenerational contact

Respectful and purposeful intergenerational connections bring together younger and older individuals and improve social-emotional health. This empowers both generations to stand on their own and together against the mistreatment of all ages. Intergenerational programs are thriving in some BC communities: preschools are located in seniors’ centres, youth groups visit long-term care homes, seniors read in classrooms and Indigenous elders teach language and other cultural programs to youth. 

Children are a rich resource in the effort to combat ageism. By involving them now, we give them the tools to build respectful relationships with people across the generations and for themselves as they move through life. 

Generally, older adults are very open to connecting with children. Through creating friendships across the aging spectrum, older adults empathize with children and youth as they face their common generational issues of bullying and abuse.

During the process, attitudes shift. Younger people learn to understand, rather than fear, the issues of aging. When the power of respectful intergenerational connectivity is unleashed, it is societally changing. Individuals of different generations nurture friendships, understanding and compassion while strengthening their communities. 

Intergenerational Programming for Your Community

One of the best ways to create intergenerational programming is to bring community members of the target age groups together to discuss ideas. What would the kids like to learn? What would the seniors like to know or share? What sounds like fun?

For programs to be successful, participants need to be engaged and committed to the process. While one group of teens might want to learn how to crochet or play bridge, another might want to discuss books or listen to music. Seniors might want to learn more about the internet or plant a garden with some helping hands. 

It has been proven that the best intergenerational practice follows three principles:

Empower both generations to bear the responsibility of planning, implementation, celebration and evaluation. They work as a leadership team.

Plan simple activities to free up time for just being together, listening and talking.

Sustain the relationship by making activities fun for everyone. 

An important tip from BC CRN’s Intergenerational Community Guide is to ensure the activities are neither too stressful nor too time-consuming for the participants.

Intergenerational Day is June 1

What better lead in to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) on June 15 than to start the month with an Intergenerational Day event? BC CRN has an Intergenerational Activities Resource Kit that contains everything you need to plan your event from ideas and organization to publicizing and tips for event day. 

Celebrating the day can be as easy as children and youth delivering single flowers to seniors at the local seniors centre, showing up with ice cream and cones, or staying for a conversation or playing a game.

Others are more elaborate. In Saanich, BC, a retired doctor and retired educator created six-week IG (intergenerational) choir sessions for older adults and children. In just 90 minutes a week, everyone learns songs and learns about each other through respectful communication and snack sharing. One session captured the interest of a large group of 7-year-old boys who loved the interaction with their older neighbours.

In addition to BC CRN’s resources, the i2i Intergenerational Society has promotional materials to download and lots of ideas on how to bring the generations together. Connect with your local CRN to learn how you can be involved with a local activity.

For more resources on ageism, check our lengthy library of research papers, articles, webinars and more. Remember to send pictures and write-ups of your intergenerational programming events so we can post them on the news page and Facebook! 



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