by Amy Lemieux
The Little Boy and the Old Man by Shel Silverstein
Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that too.”
The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the little old man.
Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”
“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the little old man.
I often use this poem to help people understand the ideal pairing between two age groups that, while far apart chronologically, have much in common. Retrogenesis is the theory that with dementia, the brain deteriorates in the reverse order of which it developed. Once seniors reach the middle stage of retrogenesis they need more supervision and become cognitively and functionally similar to preschoolers. Characteristics of both groups include; concrete, not abstract thinking, taking in information through the senses, short attention spans and being easily distracted, enjoying repetition and familiarity, are ego-centric and concerned with their own wants and needs.
When people learn we are a preschool inside of a senior building, they have one of two reactions; What a great idea! Or Why would you have little children with old people? While Silverstein’s poem tugs at the heartstrings and illustrates a deep psychological connection, it is equally important to articulate the research that supports this wonderful match. The research to support the benefits of intergenerational programming is strong and consistent. Long-term studies show lasting benefits to young and old who spend time together.
What does an intergenerational program DO for seniors?
It decreases boredom, loneliness, and helplessness, all things positively correlated with depression, heart problems, and a weakened immune system. In some facilities with intergenerational programming medication levels decrease.
What does an intergenerational program DO for children? It increases empathy, vocabulary and reading scores, and improves the quality of social interactions. It decreases misbehavior. These effects are long-term.
Under what conditions do children, families and communities flourish?
Renowned psychologist and author, Mary Pipher, writes, “Many communities are realizing the value of projects that connect the young and old. Older people are often wiser and less stressed than the rest of us and they have more time and patience.” Seniors are not checking their watches, laptops or phones constantly. Young children need the wisdom and patience of the older generation and older people need the innocence and vitality that only a young child can offer.
“You can have a nursing home that strives for the absence of pain, but that isn’t enough. There needs to be the presence of joy.” – John Greiner from Grace Living Center.