Mentoring by an older person offers exceptional value to young people. This mentoring can take place at a job, informally in social settings, or even through email or letter correspondence. It can be about life, love, or work. Mentors have a long history of making the lives of young people better. It turns out, however, that the benefits do not stop at young people; older people benefit from mentoring as well.
Health benefits of mentoring
What is the first and most provable benefit for older adults who mentor? Being a mentor helps those who are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Alzheimer’s of course is an ultimately fatal affliction which carries away brain function, including memories. A study published in the Journal of Gerontology in 2009 showed gains for mentors in “executive function and in the activity of prefrontal cortical regions in older adults at elevated risk for cognitive impairment.” Seniors who have a family history, genetic predisposition, or lifestyle risk of Alzheimer’s can have healthier brains through mentoring. Other studies connect social interactions and memory exercises (such as sharing experiences and skills) with better cognitive health. Mentoring, then, keeps seniors and their brains healthier for longer.
Social and emotional benefits
Per an article in the Harvard Business Review, experts say that seniors who mentor young people may be three times as happy as those who do not. If they mentor, seniors may continue to feel useful and valuable even amid health setbacks. They may feel uplifted by being alert enough to help their juniors and younger family members. Seniors can be assured that they are leaving behind legacies and even seeing them implemented before they are gone.
Feeling that one has passed on one’s love, skills and wisdom can be among the most satisfying parts of aging. Caregivers are uniquely positioned to seek social and emotional health for elderly loved ones by encouraging mentoring relationships.
How to foster mentoring
Mentoring does not just magically happen without some help. In some cultures, older people frequently meet younger people because of necessity or tradition. In the United States, that is not always true. One way to increase mentorship and relationships between older and younger people is to invest in and increase the affordability of multigenerational housing. This makes it easier for families of various ages to live together. Multigenerational housing decreases the cost of living for older adults and allows them to age surrounded by loved ones. It often means that children are engaging with their grandparents (or other older relatives) daily. Sharing guidance about social choices, work ethics, and more means that children receive the benefits of the older generation’s wisdom and experience.
Seniors can make a difference
The older generations survived vital changes, challenges, and improvements in society. They witnessed wars, the winning of the rights of all genders and races to vote, the creation of space travel, and the invention of the Internet. Placing them in proximity to younger people means that many of these lessons and values can be passed on.
Further, seniors should be an active part of the workforce and in community efforts. Seniors who live alone or in nursing homes often become isolated from society. This increases their risks of falling victim to serious social and emotional health dangers. By actively seeking out older people to get involved in companies and community organizations, society can continue to learn from them and allow them to shape a better future with their knowledge and experience.
Mentoring young children and young adults
Placing seniors in educational relationships with students, in particular, very young students and those in college offer special advantages. One of the most important parts of early childhood education is socialization. Allowing seniors to take a role in caring for very young children facilitates the socialization of children. Seniors can also help college students. With college tuition costs skyrocketing and competitiveness rising each day, college students are deep in debt and struggling to succeed. Relying on older people to give support and advice, as well as to provide context and experience to apply academic concepts to real-world challenges, is an advantage to every university.
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Brooks, David. The Heart Grows Smarter. (November 5, 2012). The New York Times. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/11/06/opinion/brooks-the-heart-grows-smarter.html?_r=1. Retrieved October 7, 2016.
Carlson, Michelle C., Erickson, Kirk I., Kramer, Arthur F., Voss, Michelle W., Bolea, Natalie, Mielke, Michelle, McGill, Sylvia, Rebok, George W., Seeman, Teresa, and Fried, Linda P. (2009). Evidence for Neurocognitive Plasticity in At-Risk Older Adults: The Experience Corps Program. Journal of Gerontology: MEDICAL SCIENCES, 64:(12):1275-1282. Available at http://biomedgerontology.oxfordjournals.org/content/64A/12/1275.full.pdf+html. Retrieved October 10, 2016.
Freedman, Marc and Stamp, Trent. (July 6, 2016). Aging Societies Should Make More of Mentorship. Harvard Business Review. Available at https://hbr.org/2016/07/aging-societies-should-make-more-of-mentorship. Retrieved October 7, 2016.
Rhodes, Jean. Mentoring youth promotes cognitive gains in older adults.(October 28, 2013). The Chronicle of Evidence-Based Mentoring. Available at http://chronicle.umbmentoring.org/mentoring-youth-promotes-cognitive-gains-in-older-adults/. Retrieved October 10, 2016.