The Importance of Intergenerational Relationships

January 3, 2019
Amy Clements-Cortes PhD MT-BC MT FAMI

Dr Clements-Cortes is an assistant professor, Music and Health Research Collaboratory, University of Toronto, Ontario, Canada; instructor, Wilfrid Laurier University and Ryerson Chang School; certified music therapist; and registered psychotherapist.  

This year I became a mother to an amazing baby: Alejandra, named after my late father Alexander. She is bringing immense joy to my life and family, but especially to my Mother: an older adult.

This is my mother’s first grandchild, something she has looked forward to for years. She proudly owns her new title of Nonna (“grandmother” in Italian). We get together every day, either in person or via technology, to read books, sing songs, play with toys, and play other various games. I have also brought my mother with us to mommy and baby music classes. My mother has never looked happier, and she has a new purpose in life: to share stories and talk with Alejandra, look at pictures of Alejandra several times during the day, talk about Alejandra with her friends and our family, soothe Alejandra, and provide her with an abundance of love—and I am sure she will provide Alejandra with wisdom too, as she gets older.

Alejandra equally benefits from this loving relationship with an older adult: she has another person in her life providing her with unconditional love, support, knowledge, and nurturing care. And I benefit as well; I am overjoyed to see my mother so happy—to share this special time with her and to see the love that they both have for each other. This wonderful time in my life has brought me to reflect upon the importance of intergenerational relationships.

I have always believed in and been a supporter of intergenerational programming for older adults. In fact, when I worked as the program coordinator of an adult day program with older adults—those who were both cognitively intact and/or diagnosed with a cognitive impairment—I actively collaborated with local daycare centers and schools to include them in our programs and activities. The programs involved: singing, playing instruments, dancing, making arts and crafts, visiting summer camp programs, picnics, and celebrating holidays. I saw the importance and benefits of these programs for both generations, as well as for the health care professionals.

As explained by Kaplan and Sánchez, intergenerational programs include activities fostering interaction, exchange, and cooperation between different generations.1 Several authors affirm intergenerational programs complement attitude changes toward older adults in young persons, as well as being able to complement lifelong learning for older adults.2-4 Further, a number of benefits, such as improving health and wellbeing for older adults, through physical and cognitive activity simultaneously contributes to values, behaviors, and identity in adolescents.5-8

Results of a recent systematic review on the effectiveness of intergenerational programs found that “programs with a greater number of empirically based interventions (EBI) controls have the greatest effectiveness, regardless of the intervention mode employed, and that this effectiveness is also modulated by other variables such as the participants’ disabilities, their literacy level, or their membership of an organization.”9 In Gulano, Voglino, Bert, Thomas, Camussi and Siliquini’s review of intergenerational programs involving preschool and elementary children with older adults, they found that in 10 of the 27 studies reviewed there was a positive impact on children’s perception of seniors.10 The older participants benefited from self-esteem, mood, self-reported health, and well-being.

Given the above promising benefits, we hopefully will see the number of these programs and initiatives continue to rise, especially given the growth in the older adult population in society. I hope long-term care facilities, retirement homes, and daycare centers for older adults will continue to offer, as well as increase, this type of programming as possible. I further hope to see more community programming involving a variety of generations, such as choirs, crafts, exercise, and more.


1. Kaplan M, Sánchez M. Intergenerational programmes, in International Handbook on Ageing and Public Policy. Harper S, Hamblin K, eds. Cheltenham, UK: Elgar; 2014.

2. Borrero L. Intergenerational service learning: bringing together undergraduate students and older adult learners to engage in collaborative research. J Int Relations. 2015;13(2):188-192. doi:10.1080/15350770.2015.1025679

3. Park A-La. The effects of intergenerational programmes on children and young people. Int J School Cogn Psycholo. 2015;2(1):1-5. doi:10.4172/2469-9837.1000118

4. Thompson EH, Weaver AJ. Making connections: the legacy of an intergenerational program. Gerontologist. 2016;56(5):909-918. doi:10.1093/geront/gnv064

5. Celdrán M, Triadó C, Villar F. Nietos adolescentes con abuelos con demencia: ¿la enfermedad cambia la naturaleza de la relación? [Adolescent grandchildren with grandparents with dementia: ¿Is the disease changing relationship's nature?]. Anales de Psicología. 2009;25(1):172-179.

6. Galbraith B, Larkin H, Moorhouse A, Oomen T. Intergenerational programs for persons with dementia: a scoping review. J Gerontol Soc Work. 2015;58(4):357-378. doi:10.1080/01634372.2015.1008166

7. Fujiwara Y. Long-term effects of an intergenerational program on health and well-being of older adults. Gerontologist. 2016;56(suppl 3):9. doi:10.1093/geront/gnw162.035

8. Sakurai R, Yasunaga M, Murayama Y, et al. (2016). Long-term effects of an intergenerational program on functional capacity in older adults: results from a seven-year follow-up of the REPRINTS study. Arch Gerontol Geriatr. 2016;64:13-20. doi:10.1016/j.archger.2015.12.005

9. Canedo-Garcia A, Garcia-Sanchez JN, Pacheco-Sanz DI. A systematic review of the effectiveness of intergenerational programs. Front Psychol. 2017;8:1882. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01882

10. Gualano MR, Voglino G, Bert F, Thomas R, Camussi E, Siliquini R. The impact of intergenerational programs on children and older adults: A review. Int Psychogeriatr. 2018;30(4):451-468. doi:10.1017/S104161021700182X

Amy Clements-Cortes is Assistant Professor, Music and Health Research Collaboratory, University of Toronto; Academic Coordinator & Instructor, Interdisciplinary Studies, Ryerson Chang School; Instructor and Supervisor, Wilfrid Laurier University; Music Therapist and Registered Psychotherapist. Amy has extensive clinical experience working with clients across the life span, with a specialty in older adults, dementia and palliative care. She has authored multiple peer-reviewed publications, including her new 2016 book: Voices of the Dying and Bereaved, and she has given over 100 conference and/or invited academic presentations. Amy is Past-President of the World Federation of Music Therapy (WFMT), and Managing Editor of the Music and Medicine journal. She is a Past President of the Canadian Association for Music Therapists, and serves on the editorial review boards for 9 international journals. Notes By Amy was founded in 1995 and provides a variety of professional services including: Private Music Therapy, Psychotherapy, and Guided Imagery and Music Sessions; Performances; Clinical Music Therapy Supervision and Mentoring; Voice Lessons; Music Therapy Courses; and Research Collaboration.

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