Hands and hearts connect generations


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The Suntree Elementary School Chorus performed for Wuesthoff Town Square Assisted Living facility residents May 15.

photo by Linda Wiggins

Connecting older and younger generations provides unseen benefits for all ages, and thankfully Brevard is becoming a place where it is more likely to occur, according to one source.

“While Brevard County is still a great place to retire, it is also a place where young families and individuals of all ages are relocating. That is good for our residents, who love when younger family members come to call,” said Elizabeth Burbeck, activities director for Wuesthoff Town Square Assisted Living community in Viera. 

Chorus students from nearby Suntree Elementary School came calling and performing for residents May 15, and Burbeck wasted no time encouraging interaction, with young students teaching residents the hand gestures to their school tune for a sing-along.

“That’s what we do all day long every day, create opportunities for interaction and staying physically active and mentally sharp, so it is really huge for them to pay us a visit. Our residents absolutely adore the company of young people. It keeps them young.”

It’s a mark of pride to have a grandchild active in your life, say many grandparents and grandchildren.

“It’s ridiculous how proud my grandma is of me and my sister,” said Alexander Edwards, 20. “She’s constantly talking us up to her friends and to the rest of the family. It’s obvious she gets a lot of enjoyment from us and that her friends think it’s great to have the relationship we have.”

Youngsters from the community can fill the gap for residents of senior communities who may not have young family members nearby, Victoria Landing Assisted Living executive director Amy Schaefer said.

“We partner with Holy Name of Jesus Catholic School and have a pen pal program and do lots of things, and the residents love it. We did a Girl Scout cookie tasting party and it brought back sweet memories for our residents who were Girl Scouts and the youngsters were thrilled by the stories.”

“Feelings” are a key word, said Michele Lyon, executive director InspiredLiving of Palm Bay, whose main campus is a secure memory-care community.

“With dementia, you don’t always remember things, but you remember feelings, and interaction with children reminds you of the joy you experienced with your own children or grandchildren, and boom, you are there,” Lyon said. There are many benefits to this type of intergenerational play for both children and younger to older adults, on cognitive, social, physical and emotional levels, according to the Journal of Psychology and AgingVisiting Suntree Elementary School chorus student Daniela Roa teaches Wuesthoff Town Square Assisted Living community resident Barbara Preston hand gestures for her school song under the guidance of activities director Elizabeth Burbeck.

Older adults retain language and learn to adapt and change, make new friends and keep the old ones.

Through intergenerational play, older adults exercise small and large muscles, maintain a measure of control over the physical world, and both young and old benefit from increased oxygen and blood flow to the brain.

Older adults reconnect with the expression of feelings that combats depression, express empathy by choosing to give love, and imagine new roles for self. Both young and old build self esteem. 

“These two age groups are so important for all of us, as we learn from watching them come together,” Burbeck said. “The wisdom and  enthusiasm in gathering together helps build a community relationship.” 

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