The Power of Intergenerational Friendships

March 23 2021

Researchers from Université de Saint-Boniface (USB), found that French-speaking Canadian seniors experience more loneliness than English-speaking seniors due to aging and linguistic barriers. The researchers addressed this in autumn 2019 by partnering with Actionmarguerite to study the effects of an intergenerational program on seniors’ loneliness and children’s perspective of seniors.

For eight weeks, francophone children between ages three and four from Saint Boniface Garderie des Bambins Inc. went to Actionmarguerite. Each child was assigned a francophone resident with whom they participated in a variety of activities, including yoga and arts and crafts. “The activities were the mechanism by which a connection was made between the children and the residents,” explained Daniel St. Vincent, Manager of Resident Experience at Actionmarguerite.

The staff at Actionmarguerite wasn’t surprised when the research results showed that the intergenerational program successfully alleviated loneliness. “The residents formed such strong bonds with their younger friends,” said Daniel. “One resident would come down singing on the days his friend would come over. Another resident reorganized her schedule so she wouldn’t miss a visit.”

Not only did the intergenerational program benefit the residents, it benefitted the children. Before participating in the program, Andy Dusabe Mbaye’s daughter, Maria Mbaye, had little to no contact with seniors. “I used to work at Actionmarguerite and one day I brought Maria with me and she was so shocked to see a senior in a wheelchair,” said Andy. Andy saw the program as an opportunity to give her daughter a greater appreciation and understanding of seniors. “In the first few weeks Maria was very shy, but by the end of the program she had forgotten about the residents’ wheelchairs, their walkers, and even their age difference,” said Andy. “The only thing that mattered was how much fun they were having together.”

When the research was complete, it wasn’t the end of something, it was the beginning. In January 2020, the Director of Saint Boniface Garderie des Bambins called Daniel and asked if it was possible to start a new intergenerational program. “She said ‘The small friends want to see their big friends,’” said Daniel. “It brought tears to my eyes, because that was what Actionmarguerite was aiming for. We wanted to create a durable intergenerational program that built a sense of community.”

Actionmarguerite knew the importance of intergenerational programs long before USB asked them to take part in the research project. Over the years, Daniel had reached out to different daycares and to la Fédération des parents de la francophonie manitobaine to start an intergenerational program. Challenges prevented them from getting one off the ground, so when USB approached Actionmarguerite it was, as Daniel said, “an absolute big fat win.”

“It was wonderful to finally see this project which we talked about for years take off naturally,” said Stéphanie Rouet, a social worker at Actionmarguerite. “Intergenerational programs play a big role in nourishing the lives of residents. Every care home should strive to have one.”

Although the global pandemic prevents Actionmarguerite from starting a new intergenerational program, the long-term care home plans to start again when it’s safe to do so.

To read the complete research study, “Les Petits et les Grands amis. Favoriser des échanges et développer des attitudes favorables entre les générations en milieu minoritaire” (in English “The Little Friends and the Big Friends. Promoting exchanges and developing favourable attitudes between generations in a minority setting”), click here.

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