Abstract: Intergenerational Programming and Productive Aging Among the "Oldest Old:" Findings from an MIT Agelab Study with the 85+ Lifestyle Leaders (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Intergenerational Programming and Productive Aging Among the "Oldest Old:" Findings from an MIT Agelab Study with the 85+ Lifestyle Leaders

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 12, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Julie Miller, PhD, MSW, Research Associate, MIT Agelab, Cambridge, MA
Samantha Brady, MPA, Research Specialist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA
Taylor Patskanick, LCSW, MPH, Technical Associate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA
Lisa D'Ambrosio, PhD, Research Scientist, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MA
Background and Purpose: Although the Great Recession of the late 2000s brought a sharp increase in multigenerational households for cost‐saving purposes, there remains a notable absence of community‐based connections between members of younger and older generations. Previous research demonstrates that intergenerational programs and practices bring individuals of different ages together in purposeful, mutually beneficial activities that can promote reciprocal learning, build cohesive communities, and expand opportunities for productive aging. Much research has focused on the importance of intergenerational programming for younger cohorts of older adults. However, despite the fact that the 85 plus population is the fastest growing age cohort in the United States, less is known about how the “oldest old” regard benefits of, and barriers to, community-based intergenerational programming. This research explored opinions and experiences of adults ages 85 and older in regards to intergenerational programming.

Methods: Data were collected using an exploratory mixed methods study design. This sample of adults ages 85 and older participate in an ongoing bimonthly panel at the MIT AgeLab that explores the opportunities and challenges of longevity. On May 9, 2018, focus groups were conducted with 28 Lifestyle Leaders ranging in age from 85 to 93. Focus groups were semi-structured and included open-ended questions about Lifestyle Leaders’ opinions and experiences related to intergenerational programming, specifically in the domains of housing, transportation, health and wellbeing, social engagement, and technology use and adoption. Focus groups were guided by a content analysis approach and findings were supplemented with survey data.

Results: Among the Lifestyle Leaders, experiences with intergenerational programs were mixed. Just under half of the Lifestyle Leaders said they had participated in an intergenerational program in the past, and one-quarter of the Lifestyle Leaders reported that they currently participate in an intergenerational program. 60% of Lifestyle Leaders wished they had more opportunities to participate in intergenerational programs. Primary benefits of such programs identified among participants included: a) Decreasing loneliness and social isolation and b) creating age-diverse social networks. Primary challenges identified included generational,  neighborhood, and physical divides.

Conclusions and Implications: While there are barriers to accessing intergenerational programs and creating multigenerational connections, the results of this research demonstrate that adults ages 85 and over can have positive attitudes toward intergenerational programs and may find particular aspects more appealing and/or challenging than others. From results of this study, recommendations for social work practitioners and researchers emerged that can be used to improve intergenerational programming for adults ages 85 and over. More generally, study findings suggest that intergenerational programming can contribute to the sense of productive aging for some adults ages 85 and over.