Why Old People Used to Scare the Crap Out of Me

Belgrave, M. (2011). The effect of a music therapy intergenerational program on children and older adults’ intergenerational interactions, cross-age attitudes,   older adults’ psycho-social well being. Journal of Music Therapy, 48(4), 486-508. 

As my internship draws closer to an end I’ve found myself doing a lot of reflecting. A couple of weeks ago I was thinking about a particular question I was asked during my internship interview. It was a question that went something to the effect of “What population are you most hesitant to work with and why?”

I remember my response like it was yesterday:

“The elderly…they just scare the crap out of me!”

It was an answer I immediately regretted blurting out though it was the truth. I had little experience working with older adults and they just seemed so well…old to me. I viewed them as having frail bodies, minds that weren’t right and having a dislike for anything new and fresh aka me!

How we treat the elderly has changed

My response was evidence that intergenerational interactions had truly changed throughout the last 25 years. In the past, it was common for older adults to live with their adult children and grandchildren in a multigenerational household. Today, those close living arrangement no longer exist for many families. Consequently it’s created a divide between young and old: young equates to hip and cool and old commonly is associated with being boring, dated, or even irrelevant.

Think about The Who’s song “My Generation” and it’s lyrics “hope I die before I get old”. These words ring true for many individuals. Lets be honest, we live in a youth-obsessed society where growing old often has negative connotations.

So, how do we dispel the myth that growing old is bad?

Two words: Intergenerational Programming.

Current research indicates that intergeneration programming is an effective way to engage younger and older individuals in structured activities and bridge the generational gap. Most intergenerational studies have focused on the benefits afforded to the younger generation. These studies suggested that teen & young adult participation in, particularly music based, intergenerational programming fostered positive attitudes towards older adults. Younger generations also reported increased gain in respect for the aging process.

In a study conducted in 2011, music therapy researcher Dr. Melita Belgrave examined the psycho-social (feelings of helpfulness, usefulness, happiness & self-esteem) implications on the older generation when participating within an intergenerational music group. Dr. Belgrave discovered that the older adult participant’s attitudes towards children improved after participation in the intergenerational program, as well as their views on children's level of goodness, positivity, and maturity.

The Intergenerational Rock Band

I have a bit of personal experience with this. I participate in an intergenerational rock band. It’s a group of 20-25 people varying in age from 18yrs to 85 yrs. We meet for an hour each week to sing songs ranging from artists like James Brown and The Beatles to The Clash and Pharrell Williams. Some of the songs were familiar to me while others were brand new and as I’ve discovered, the more experienced (older) group members were in the same boat as well.

Singing songs from an era that neither of us grew up in has allowed all of us to find common ground. We laugh together when we mess up lyrics and encourage each other when the music is hard.  It’s been an experience that has provided me the opportunity to get to know each group member as an individual rather than identify them merely by their chronological age.

They’ve become my friends.

Furthermore, the experience has enriched previously established relationships with the older adults in my life. Since beginning intergenerational rock band, I’ve engaged in more meaningful interactions with my grandmother, older adults at my church & even with the older adults in other music therapy groups I lead. Through my participation in intergenerational programming I can attest to my own positive attitude change & greater appreciation towards older adults.

The research is real. These programs are enriching lives and truly connecting generations.

Interested in learning more about music therapy with older adults? Sign up for a free consultation with one of our music therapists to get your specific questions answered!


Image credit: Flickr user alubavin