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“Seniors meet with seniors”–an intergenerational study

By Staff | Mar 4, 2016

During their monthly brown bag lunch event Friday, SAIL members (Shepherdstown Area Independent Living) hosted seniors from Shepherd University as part of an inter-generational study to fulfill requirements in a class called Psychology of Aging.

One of the basic objectives of the course is for students to be aware of, and perhaps change their stereotypes of older adults. Students can most effectively accomplish this by interacting with elders outside of their own families.

The assignment required students to choose a topic in the field of aging, develop a hypothesis, collect data (informally) and report their findings. This process is mutually beneficial to both students and participants. The university partnered with Lifelong Learning, SAIL and the Berkeley Senior Center for this project.

The six Shepherd students asked each SAIL member a series of questions on different topics.

Dylan Harshman’s topic of questioning was about LGBT laws and gay marriage. His findings showed that most participants were in support of gay marriage and LGBT trends, which is in stark contrast to how these mostly septuagenarians felt at age 18.

“It was a different time back then,” said one participant,/ “The topic was very taboo. Now it’s widely accepted.”

Mel Pumphrey is in her final semester at Shepherd. Her area of questioning was about cell phones. The data she collected from the group showed that almost everyone there has a cell phone. Many of them use it for texting and pictures, but very few use it for social media.

Students admitted to being surprised at the findings in this group of elders, who appear to be keeping up with the times.

Carolyn Rodis, SAIL board member, facilitated the discussion by asking questions that illuminated the perceptions that different generations have about each other.

Rodis said that this is “an exercise to help bridge the gap of generations, and perhaps dispel frequent misconceptions.”

Rodis asked attendees, “What is the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the word, ‘old?'”

Students replied replied with words like, “scary, cranky, frail, loving and wise,” while SAILers replied with words like, “arthritis, depth, wisdom, hard of hearing, surprising and luxury of slowing down.”

Rodis continued the exercise asking, “What about when you hear the word, ‘tattoo?'”

The elder group replied with words like, “rebellion, forever, idiocy and why?”, whereas the Shepherd students used words like “expression, memories, body art and accepted.”

“We have different cultures. We do different things,” said Rodis. “Of course it’s always been that way. But what do we do about it? Or do we care to do anything about it?”

Some of the older attendees said they believe the connection to the younger generation does matter because elders tend to be in isolation more often. Especially when their families–children and grandchildren are busy with their own lives.

The conversation turned to the use of cell phones and methods of communication. The elders of the group were surprised to learn that some of the younger generation still write letters and send cards to one another, as well as call their own grandparents, rather than text.

In the interest of keeping with the theme of blending young and old, one of the SAIL members suggested that Shepherd students offer their time and services to assist elders living in town with things like grocery shopping, going to the post office, etc.

In closing, Rodis said, “I hope we’ve begun to see that there are those different challenges in inter-generational communication. The various ways of trying to maintain relationships is very dependent on the other person, whether within the same generation or a different generation. It’s important to try to figure out what is the best means (of communication) so that what you want to say will be received.”

Shepherd University has a program entitled ‘Lifelong Learning,’ which was initiated by SAIL, and provides a means of continuing education for the mature community that wishes to engage in stimulating discussion in an academic setting.

For information about Lifelong Learning, visit the website at www.shepherd.edu/lifelonglearning. To become a member of SAIL or to obtain more information, visit them online at sail.clubexpress.com/ or call 304-870-7245.