Throughout Global Intergenerational Week #GIW23 we have been tweeting about our work in the intergenerational research field, chatting and sharing with new friends and colleagues who are equally passionate about the role intergenerational practice has to play in all our futures.

We have shared views on intergenerational interventions from different perspectives in our podcast, summarised our work on the Evidence and Gap map and shared the map itself and how to navigate around it. We will be sharing links to more resources from this project for the rest of this week and are happy to share them with anyone interested.

Today we want to share some of the findings from the Evidence and Gap map and some of our subsequent reviews.

Our Evidence and gap map

In January this year we published our Evidence and Gap Map of research evidence for Intergenerational Interventions. This map includes all published research that explores interventions that work with older and younger people who are not related and are separated in age by a least one generation.

So far, the map has 500 research studies included and briefly described in it. Research was included up until July 2021, the map is expected to be updated with research conducted since then, later this year.

The evidence included in the map comes from 27 different countries and includes: 26 systematic reviews, 236 studies that report quantitative results (including 38 randomised controlled trials), 227 that report qualitative findings, 105 observational studies and 82 that used a mixed methods approach. Children and young people of different ages were included in these intergenerational practices: 122 involved children aged between 0 and 5 years, 182 involved children aged 6–12 years, 137 involved young people aged 12–18 years, and 155 interventions involved young people aged 19–30 years.

The outcomes reported in these studies included (but were not limited to) social isolation, engagement, interaction, perception of people living with dementia, social inclusion, psychological outcomes, depression, anxiety, social skills, self-confidence, creativity, school performance, relationship building, attitudes, empathy, personal growth, community responsibility, activity levels (physical activities), mood, quality of life, stimulation of memory and mind, digital inclusion (helping people to get online). The most commonly reported outcomes for children and young people were attitudes towards older people, knowledge and attainment, and intergenerational interactions. For older people the most commonly reported outcomes were mental wellbeing, agency, attitudes towards younger people, and intergenerational interactions.

Interventions were delivered in schools, hospitals, universities, shared facilities, community settings and in care homes and assisted living centres. They involved a range of activities including: sharing perspectives of being an older or younger person/child, spending time together, helping with chores, helping more generally within a school environment, mentoring, arts and crafts, learning or sharing music, and playing games, amongst many others.

Although the research evidence covers a wide and varied field of intergenerational interventions we were still able to identify several gaps in the research including:

  • A lack of research on mutual, societal and community outcomes including loneliness, social isolation, peer interactions, physical health and health promotion,
  • A lack of outcomes reported around young people’s mental health,
  • A lack of outcomes centred on caregiver wellbeing, mental health and attitudes, economic outcomes, and any adverse or unexpected outcomes

Systematic reviews

In our subsequent systematic reviews we wanted to get a better understanding of the impact of intergenerational interventions on both older and younger peoples’ mental health and wellbeing, and on any community outcomes, as well as looking at the theory and logic behind why these interventions may work.

In these reviews we focused on the research evidence available from randomised controlled trials as we wanted a clearer picture of how effective these interventions might be. Five of the randomised controlled trials reported the effects of intergenerational interventions on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people and 14 on the health and wellbeing of older people.

We found that the research was quite disparate and that it was difficult to bring the findings together in a meaningful way. There was some (small) indication that self esteem might improve and depression might decrease for older people involved in intergenerational interventions, but of the research that measured children and young people’s mental health and wellbeing not one measured the same (or similar) outcomes so we couldn’t summarise their effects.

We also found that despite a keen interest from our stakeholders in how intergenerational interventions might impact the community, outcomes related to the community or how community might be perceived was lacking (only one study asked about a ‘sense of community’ using a formal questionnaire).

When looking at the outcomes reported in these studies we noticed that although the interventions were intergenerational the research wasn’t always looking for the impact on both generations. Often only older peoples’ outcomes were measured (or perhaps expected) – contrary to how intergenerational practice might be perceived and delivered now.

When looking more at the theories and logic behind the interventions there were similarities and differences in approaches to be found. We need to learn more from existing interventions and the theories they are based on and question those interventions that seemingly have no theory or proposed logic model to them. Different approaches are both necessary and invaluable but knowing how something should work, and whether it actually works as expected, is also essential knowledge to further develop this, not new, but vastly growing area.

Looking forward

We hope to have the full reports of these systematic reviews published soon along with an updated map later this year.

We are also looking forward to working with our new friends and networks: Only Connect! Network, Generations Working Together (@GenerationsWT), Generations United (@GensUnited), Anneke Fitzgerald at the Australian Institute for Intergenerational Practice (@AusInsIntergenP), Intergenerational Music Making (@IMMmusicUK), the East Lothian Intergenerational Network (@LoreenPardoe), Linking Generations Northern Ireland (@LinkGenNI) Lois Peach (@loispeach), Matt Kaplan, Mariano Sanchez and Iona Lawrence (@ionaflawrence)

So watch this space and check back on our project page, blog or twitter to see new developments.