Building respect between generations
Efforts underway to bring young and old together
Saturday, Jun 14, 2014 06:00 am
A boy named Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge befriends an elderly woman who lives in the old people’s home next to his house.
Wilfrid Gordon tells her all his secrets, but sometimes she has trouble remembering.
“So Wilfrid Gordon went home again to look for memories for Ms. Nancy because she had lost her own,” read Staff Sgt. Brent Mundel from the book Wilfrid Gordon McDonald Partridge, to a class of Grade 4 and 5 students at J.J. Nearing Catholic Elementary School.
The St. Albert Mountie was one of four guest readers brought into schools to raise awareness about how respect and caring for older generations can reduce age discrimination and elder abuse.
“I’m probably a lot older than you guys, but I have a tickle trunk at home with little things in it that I had as a kid. When I pull things out of there and look at it, it brings back lots of memories for me,” said Mundel.
“That’s kind of like what Wilfrid Gordon did for Ms. Nancy isn’t it? He brought her a whole bunch of things and it reminded her of things in her past.”
The students nod and proceed to share their own stories about befriending elderly neighbours and family friends.
The classroom readings are part of the Generations Caring for Each Other campaign by the St. Albert Elder Abuse Protocol Committee to mark World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15.
It is estimated that between four and 10 per cent of older adults in Canada experience some type of abuse.
“How we rate our community is how we treat people that are the most vulnerable,” said Coun. Sheena Hughes at the city’s proclamation event at the St. Albert 50+ Club on Friday.
“Whether you’re the best community in Canada or the worst one, elder abuse is occurring. We can’t simply ignore the fact. We need to have resources available to people so they can feel that they can empower themselves regardless of their age.”
The Alberta government recently announced a new $3 million grant program. Starting in August, communities can apply for up to $150,000 in funding to develop, implement or enhance elder abuse prevention initiatives over the next three years.
Spruce Grove-St. Albert MLA Doug Horner said the province is moving in the right direction.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have a week for elder abuse and awareness? Wouldn’t it be fabulous if we could say that everyone is well taken care of?” he said.
Studies on ageism by researchers at the University of Alberta have shown that children pick up on cultural stereotypes about older people by observing interactions. Those interactions affect how they respond to older adults as well as their views on aging.
Programs that have the old and young working together have been proven to bridge generational gaps, explained Jacquie Eales, research manager with Research on Aging, Policies, and Practice in the department of human ecology at the University of Alberta.
Researchers in the department recently finished a four-year evaluation of the Edmonton-based intergenerational theatre company GeriActors and Friends, whereby drama students write and perform their own plays with a group of seniors.
The program quashed age stereotypes, said Eales. The students instead found that the “experience enhanced their perspectives of aging, and aging wasn’t as scary as they had once believed.”
Students and seniors realized they had a lot more in common than they previously thought.
“Teenagers experience things like loneliness, marginalization and exclusion as they find their way in the world, while older adults can experience invisibility and loneliness,” said Eales.
The theatre program also changed some participants’ relationships with their family members, she added. Seniors felt they could better understand their own grandchildren, while students learned empathy and made more of an effort to spend time with their parents and grandparents.
Compassion, understanding and respect are values instilled early on in students at J.J. Nearing.
“Every single age has importance,” said teacher Debbie Langevin, “and if we’re lucky we’ll get to be those old people one day.”