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Where Have All Our Elders Gone? – A Call for Intergenerational Community

Photo by Ingo Joseph, via Pexels.com
Where are the older adults in our larger communities? |Photo by Ingo Joseph, via Pexels.com

If you look at flyers for local events or calls for volunteers, ads for the local town, you’ll notice one thing that’s often missing in the promotional materials: any sign of our aging population.

There are tens upon tens of thousands of older adults in New Jersey, but all too often the bright flyers and TV ads only have older adults when it’s something “targeted” at the older population. With an estimated 1.8+ million adults aged 65+ projected to live in New Jersey by 2030, and 32% increase in the 60+ population by 2034, community messages that ignore older adults are not only harmful, but fail completely to accurately reflect the communities they address. What can we do to address this issue?

Maybe the focus we need to put is on intergenerational community. We often focus on families when we think “intergenerational,” and older adults are only included in this if they’ve had children and grandchildren to bring them into the spotlight. But intergenerational community is not just about families. It’s about making sure that every member of our communities, regardless of age, is included and made to feel a valued member of the community.

As we get older, we at an increasing risk of social isolation. And were all, constantly, getting older. Whether you feel “older” now or not, it’s vital we remember everyone out there—people like us and who we may one day be—is looking to be included and have social connections. Accomplishing this intergenerational, connected community is not always easy, but the solutions are fairly straightforward.

The first step is to reach out to older adults and ask for their input. Ask how they would like to be included and what suggestions they have for outreach, for planning, and for execution. Don’t make their involvement a token gesture—make it count and have them as an active focus of the conversation the whole way through. Speak to all your neighbors, the ones you haven’t heard from before, the people who haven’t usually been in your social sphere. Reach out to senior centers, local aging offices, and residential care facilities and see if any of the residents are aware of the events and would like to take part in it. Their lives, your life, and your community will be all the richer for it.