In a recent ALLE Learning class titled “The Lyrics Tell the Story of Peace and Love,” we listened to the songs and then studied music lyrics from different eras. We used creative thinking strategies to compare and contrast the similarities and differences between the pieces. It was interesting to discover that at one senior living community, in one classroom, for one hour, we had five different generations present. Residents from the Greatest Generation, the Silent Generation, and the newest residents, the Baby Boomers. The facilitators were from younger generations. Why is this important?

Blue Skies

Our senior living population is expanding in ways that may have been unexpected. When I asked an Executive Director at a senior living community if they noticed a shift in the ages of new residents, he shared this information: before the Covid-19 lockdown, they had ten residents between the ages of 70-80. Since “getting back to normal,” in the past six months, they have had 50 new residents move in who are between the ages of 70-80. That is a remarkable shift in their population. It changes everything.

Are there differences between generations? In the past, researchers would say yes, due to major events in the world and their lives, such as a World War. People born during the 1930s and who lived through World War II had different experiences and other memories.

But today’s research shows that we all have more in common than we think. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, there are FIVE generations at work today. In our case, we could list SIX (based on the age of residents & staff), from the Greatest Generation to Generation Z. We were curious about how our older population perceives generational differences; here is what we found.

  • Many are frustrated by ubiquitous technology. While as a group, they complained about the use of virtual contact between family members, they agreed that it was easier for their family to keep in touch with them and vice versa. The younger residents spoke up about the benefits of telehealth & conferencing technology with their families.
  • The second issue is personal contact. We know that isolation is a big problem for older adults living at home, but according to Elder Law, it can also be a problem in a senior living community.
  • The third issue the group identified is offering programming that appeals to five different generations. Yikes! So that means we must shift away from a calendar full of “activities” to ongoing programs filled with purpose and meaning.

What is the answer? Since 100% of residents in a national survey say they are “Lifelong Learners,” let’s not ignore the obvious. People love to learn. New, younger residents may attend a virtual class or attend a lecture at a local college on their own. Still, they say that getting to know other residents is critical to feeling valued and connected to the community.

Three quick ways to achieve participation and encourage engagement for all ages:

  1. Music. At the end of this particular class, one participant started singing “Blue Skies, Nothing but Blue Skies Do I See.” We did a quick internet search, found the song and the lyrics, and the entire group agreed that at the end of the day, every generation wants the same thing; peace and blue skies.
  2. Enrich the topic. Tie topics together instead of an hour activity unrelated to anything else on the calendar; use a learning experience to offer an art project, service project, or creative thinking class.
  3. Extend the topic. Use the internet to find a public YouTube documentary or video that can take a learning experience to the next level.

Blue skies smiling at me
Nothing but blue skies do I see

Bluebirds singing a song
nothing but bluebirds all day long