Thursday, September 15, 2011

Intergenerational Volunteering Relieves Dementia Stress (Research, Video 1:38)

I watched them playing together, both mesmerized by the rolling magic of a colorful ball slowly passing between them. One was two years old, and the other was eighty years old with dementia. I couldn’t help but smile. They had discovered the bridge that eludes many of the wisest and most educated.

The bridge is that universal connection between two people that makes them one in the moment. Too often, it is assumed that people with dementia, who may not even recognize their own children, are no longer capable of truly connecting as volunteers for others. Thoughts of having them improving their quality of life while performing intergenerational service can easily be dismissed. That’s when we have to be reminded about the bridge. The Department of Humanities at Penn State College of Medicine did just that when they set out to research whether an intergenerational volunteering intervention could enhance quality of life for persons with mild to moderate dementia.

This research involved fifteen participants forming intervention and control groups. Volunteering in hour-long sessions with kindergarteners and older elementary students, intervention group members participated in alternating weeks over a five-month period. Data were collected and analyzed regarding their cognitive functioning, stress, depression, sense of purpose, and sense of usefulness.

Results indicated significant decrease in stress and improved quality of life in three main areas: perceived health benefits, sense of purpose, sense of usefulness, and relationships. Results didn’t mention the bridge, but I know it was there. That’s what the bridge does when appropriate opportunities are created for it to transform lives.
In this video from the Alzheimer’s Society (UK), Lesley, who has dementia, has been fortunate in discovering many bridges that improve the quality of her life. She discusses her previous work with children, her current volunteering with learning disabled adults, and the “lucky” moments that inspire her to be herself.

Frances Shani Parker, Author
Becoming Dead Right: A Hospice Volunteer in Urban Nursing Homes is available in paperback at many booksellers and in e-book form at Amazon and Barnes and Noble booksellers.


  1. Hi Frances Parker, I must say it was a nice article as it force me to think that why dementia creates so much complication in elder person's life. Is it caregivers or elder who are responsible for making the life miserable.

  2. Any terminal illness can cause complications in people's lives for a variety of reasons, and dementia is no exception. Each case is unique, and not all persons with dementia lead miserable lives.