Through Their Eyes: Exploring older adults’ experiences with an intergenerational project
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Canada’s aging population and intergenerational programs’ ability to encourage active aging point to the need for further support and encouragement for these programs. The purpose of this case study was to explore and understand, from an insider’s perspective, the lived experiences of six older adults who participated in an intergenerational project – Through Their Eyes. Three questions guided this inquiry: What are the experiences of older adults participating in the Through Their Eyes project? How did this experience influence their well-being? How did this experience influence their relationship to their community? I conducted critical qualitative research using semi-structured individual interviews, a focus group, a knowledge translation workshop, observations and field notes. The qualitative data were analyzed using constant comparative and inductive analysis techniques. Analysis highlighted ‘opportunity’ as the central theme of the study. During a time in older adults’ lives when they are experiencing many losses, the Through Their Eyes project was an opportunity for gain. Specifically, the intergenerational project provided an opportunity for new relationships. There was a familial-type intimacy to the relationships older adults develop with students as participants’ often compared their student interviewers to their grandchildren. The Through Their Eyes project also offered a space and place for older adults to be heard regarding their community. Older adults wanted the information they provided for the project to help other aging adults in their community. Finally the intergenerational project added a joyful memory and experience for participants. When participants shared their thoughts on the Through Their Eyes project, it was clear that it was a joyful experience as all of them describe it as such. Findings illustrated that the Through Their Eyes project encouraged active aging and enhanced quality of life for participants by providing an opportunity for social participation and allowing them to remain active and engaged citizens. The Through Their Eyes project fostered social participation by establishing connections between generations, addressing social isolation and loneliness, and breaking down stereotypes and age barriers. The Through Their Eyes project allowed older adults to remain active and engaged citizens in their neighbourhoods by providing an important opportunity for reciprocity and a place for them to be listened to in regards to their community matters. Insights into practical implications based on the findings from this study and suggestions for future research in the area of intergenerational programs are identified.