Thursday is an exciting day for the residents at The Virginian Senior Living Community in Fairfax, Va. About a dozen children aged 4 make their way from next door at Merritt Academy to spend quality time with the residents as part of the “Reading Buddies" program.

It's one of many intergenerational programs today that boost the spirits of seniors, giving them greater purpose late in life and inspiring learning in the children while in daycare. Such bonding is also being extended to pets and seniors, with communities adopting adult dogs who they care for on a daily basis, gaining a sense of value in their communities.

At The Virginian, reading is the primary activity for the participants, according to Terralyn Hamlin, assisted living life enrichment director at the facility. The children also entertain the residents and staff by singing songs.

“Our residents get excited for this every week," Hamlin said. “Many of our residents are former teachers. This brings them back to that—the classroom. It's fun to watch. It's their weekly highlight."

The visit and book selection often coincides with the teaching theme at Merritt for the week, such as Dr. Seuss Day on the famous author's birthday. The seniors also engage in some friendly “chit-chat," Hamlin said, checking in with the young children about what's going on in their learning.

Hamlin hopes to eventually return to The Virginian's program of having the residents visit the youngster's classroom, as had been the case prior to COVID-19. She said the community is pursuing the opportunity.

These students gain an understanding and respect of people who are different than they are. They are growing and learning social and emotional skills, learning manners and values, and discovering that every person has something to teach.

The Benefits of Combining Se​nior Living and Childcare Services

SALMON at Natick (Mass.) Campus provides a similar program at its community. Nick Baker is executive director for SALMON Health and Retirement​, which includes both senior living and childcare services.

Its inclusion of daycare was an intentional move by the SALMON Health and Retirement family, with Dan Salmon spearheading this initiative in the early 1990s, Baker said. Dan envisioned the inclusion of daycare as a means to further connect SALMON Health and Retirement's staff, residents, and their families to the greater community.

SALMON Health and Retirement has implemented a robust intergenerational program that allows for interactions between its residents and the childcare center both inside and outside of the classroom.

“The program is completely voluntary and is viewed as an additional amenity to our residents and the childcare center families," Baker said. “It's extremely rewarding to see the smiles that come from our residents when they interact with the children.

“In fact, it has been common historically that the children in the center had a parent working on campus. These intergenerational relationships have helped further enhance the strength of the relationship between our childcare center and our campus."

Baker said that the most rewarding activities for many of its residents have been reading to the children and serving as pen pals. “They've also thoroughly appreciated some of our joint events, including the childcare center's annual graduation among other programs," he said.

The seniors are not financially compensated, but there are plenty of hugs and free artwork exchanged, Baker added.

The Benefits of Intergenerationa​​​​l Sites

An essay created through the Eisner Foundation, which identifies, advocates for, and invests in high-quality and innovative programs that unite multiple generations for the enrichment of our communities, showed that fresh thinking and new social arrangements can potentially help to make the most of an increasingly multigenerational society.

Research shows that intergenerational shared sites increase the health and well-being of both young and older participants, reduce social isolation, and create cost efficiencies.

“They are joyful places," according to the essay. “And unsurprisingly, the concept is a popular one; when asked, Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of shared sites."

A recent Harris poll commissioned by Generations United and the Eisner Foundation found that nearly all Americans believe older adults and children have skills and talents to help one another, and that 85 percent would prefer a shared site that fosters intergenerational connection over an age-segregated facility if they or a loved one needed care, the essay cited.

According to a recent report from Canada's BC Medical Journal, “Intergenerational housing models should be further explored as a way of addressing older adults' concerns about housing and social isolation. Existing intergenerational programs benefit seniors through improved self-rated health scores, physical function, and cognition. Additionally, such programs have positive impacts on society at large, fostering a sense of community, improving intergenerational ties, cultivating economic gain, and increasing social capital."

Caring for Adult Dogs Gives Seniors 'A​​ Purpose'

At Sullivan Park Care Center in Spokane Valley, Wash., adult dogs are rescued and its residents care for them, offering them companionship, walks, and feeding.

Matt Lysobey served as the facility's administrator until recently, when he was named to the same position at the Washington Veterans Home in Port Orchard, Wash.

Since the program began in March 2022, Lysobey said the facility has saved 16 senior dogs—those considered those ages 7 and older. He said the age of dogs the community adopts varies based on breed.

“These are not cute little puppies," he said. “They are adult dogs near the end of their life. When we adopt them, you don't know how much longer you'll have them. They are slower-paced dogs. They are companions. They will watch TV with the residents."

Residents are tasked with feeding the dogs, giving them their medications, grooming them, and taking them for walks. The duties are split into early and late shifts.

“This helps to give our seniors a purpose and lets them give back to their community," Lysobey said. “It shows that seniors play an important role in their community. Sometimes they feel underappreciated; people need to be 'wanted.' Being of service is core to being a human being. These residents want to not just receive care, but to care for others."

The adoption coordinator makes calls to find dogs to rescue and then has a meeting at the community to see if it's a good fit. The community hangs pictures on the wall of all its dogs: the Dog Wall of Fame.

Paul Bergeron is a freelance writer based in Herndon, Va.​