The Third Age of life is the period of healthy retirement, prior to the onset of significant frailty or physical difficulties. A recent Public Policy and Aging Report article points out that great societal good could potentially come from the rapidly growing population in this stage of life.
The promise of the Third Age is not just manpower, but the “experience, skills and abilities that are especially well-suited for meeting the growing needs of young people.” In particular, the authors say that older adults in the Third Age are “particularly well prepared for service, leadership and mentorship roles.” Therefore, the authors propose leveraging older adults as resources through intergenerational projects.
At present, the most common form of intergenerational engagement is grandparenting, with about one quarter of older adults providing care for grandchildren for 100 hours a year or more. Volunteering is the next most common form of intergenerational engagement; however, only 6 percent of older adult volunteers (less than 1 percent of all older adults) volunteer with youth-related organizations. Yet research on organizations pairing older and younger adults such as Experience Corps shows these volunteers have reduced risk of chronic illness, better health, better physical function, and delayed decline in cognitive function.
The authors of one article recommend three factors to enhance the impact of intergenerational projects: 1) institutional supports and structures that can facilitate long-term intergenerational interactions, 2) a focus on opportunities that include frequent, consistent engagement that occurs over an extended period, and 3) efforts that can raise awareness and increase involvement of older adults from diverse backgrounds. Such efforts need to be made at a policy or public education level; however, within the aging services sector, attention can also be paid to organizations serving as conduits for connecting interested older adults to volunteer opportunities with local youth.