CLODAGH FINN: Why we need to bridge the generation gap

Age segregation, unfortunately, applies to all age groups. Things aren’t necessarily better when it comes to the less young and the less old, writes Clodagh Finn.

CLODAGH FINN: Why we need to bridge the generation gap

AS WE know, Planet Viral Video is not the real world and yet there is a forgotten truth in the tear-jerking snippet that earned “ICU Grandpa”, the latest video sensation, his 15 minutes of fame.

It’s entirely probable you missed the story in the week that was — what with the Las Vegas shooting, Budget 2018 and the Disclosures Tribunal, to mention a few more serious entries on the news cycle. So let’s revisit it now.

A video showing David Deutchman, a retired marketing executive, cuddling premature babies in an intensive care unit in Atlanta, Georgia, was viewed several million times. He’s been going to the ICU every Tuesday and Thursday for the last 12 years where he’s a volunteer baby buddy, or “professional snuggler”.

Nicknamed “ICU Grandpa”, he cradles babies when their parents can’t be there or when the nurses don’t have time, which is often. Sure, he says, he gets peed on and puked on, but he says that far outweighs the benefits of doing something so meaningful.

He’s a big hit with the parents and the nurses. One of them, Nurse Elizabeth Mittiga, says holding fragile babies improves their health and helps them to digest their feeds better.

Then the camera pans back to ICU Grandpa, who is rocking and singing to a tiny mite in his arms.

It is the sweetest thing.

The sad part is that the pairing of baby and grandpa is so unusual a sight it has become a talking point. It is a rare thing to see the very young and the very old together. More often than not, they are confined to their own age-specific quarters, even when there isn’t a medical issue.

Age segregation, unfortunately, applies to all age groups. Things aren’t necessarily better when it comes to the less young and the less old — you’ll find a gap there too.

It is, of course, entirely natural that each generation thinks its own the best, while looking down on the out-dated one ahead of it and writing off the upcoming one as civilisation-wreckers and good-for-nothings.

Take this quote as an example: “The young people of today think of nothing but themselves.”

A comment on the so-called self-obsessed snowflake generation? No, actually. Those words were apparently utterly by First Crusade preacher Peter the Hermit — in 1274. You’ll find similar examples going all the way back to ancient Greece where the elders complained that the “frivolous youth were reckless beyond words” (Greek poet Hesiod, 8th century BC.)

If anything, we’ve seen a very welcome softening in modern times.

For one thing, age no longer takes as heavy a toll on the body, which means older people can be much more active and involved.

Recently, the crippling cost of childcare has meant that grandparents have often stepped in to help with the little ones. Of course that brings its own pressures, but anything that helps to bridge the generation gap is a good thing, as ICU grandpa so poignantly reminded us.

It’s just a pity that the very young and the very old don’t get to meet each other as often as they might because, in the States and in Japan, we’ve seen how preschools in old people’s homes have brought immense health benefits.

That was the idea behind the recent Old People’s Home For 4 Year Olds, a six-week experiment filmed by Channel Four which proved, even to the cynics, how children can transform the lives of pensioners.

A lively bunch of boisterous four-year-olds swept into the nursing home and, over six weeks, showed that the benefits for both groups were considerable.

The experiment prompted discussion in the UK that bringing together old and young could transform the provision of services for the elderly, although it has yet to become a reality.

It’s time for much outside-the-box thinking when it comes to caring for older people here, however, some really good intergenerational things are happening.

Take next week’s Zeminar, for example. More than 16,000 people are expected at the RDS in Dublin from October 10 to 12 for the second year of the youth wellbeing and education movement, which aims to equip Generation Z with the tools to deal with life’s challenges.

The age gap between its co-founders, the pre-middle-aged (their description) Damien Clarke and Ian Fitzpatrick, and those they are trying to help (the 15- to 25-year-olds of Generation Z) is not as pronounced as the previous examples. Yet these two ordinary heroes — all their efforts are voluntary — have been working 85-hour weeks with 10-year-old laptops to bring together an intergenerational range of speakers to help out a generation that gets a lot of flak.

But here’s a statistic to ponder. Some 13% of Gen Zers already own and run their own business and have a clear role in shaping the future of society. And another one: They have nearly €44bn in in buying power annually. By 2020, they will make up 40% of the global consumer-base.

What is striking about Zeminar is that it celebrates Gen Zers, but also tries to identify their problems and figure out ways in which older generations can help.

RESEARCH tells us that depression, anxiety, stress and alcohol consumption are all big issues, but also that young people’s use of positive coping strategies has fallen.

We also know that about 75% of mental health issues emerge between the ages of 15 and 25, but discussing those issues has been shown to reduce distress, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm.

As Ian Fitzpatrick says: “The impact one good adult can have is considerable.”

In a week when everyone is going to Government with begging bowls ahead of Budget 2018, an event such as Zeminar shows what can be achieved by people with a dream and a willingness to get up and do it for themselves.

It also shows the immense benefits that come with bridging the generation gap. Let’s hope this is the start of a new age where age is no longer a barrier.

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