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MIT AgeLab’s fifth annual OMEGA Summit engages high school students with older generations

The summit convenes experts and elders with young people for dialogue and learning about aging.
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High school students, aging professionals, and older adults were brought together for the 2019 MIT AgeLab OMEGA Summit.
High school students, aging professionals, and older adults were brought together for the 2019 MIT AgeLab OMEGA Summit.

The MIT AgeLab held its fifth annual OMEGA Summit on the MIT campus, an event that engages and educates high school students who are interested in learning about intergenerational programming and leadership.

Intergenerational programs create settings and opportunities for older and younger adults to meaningfully connect and exchange with each other. Younger people can learn from the experiences and knowledge of older individuals, while older adults may enjoy the benefits of social embeddedness and connectedness that come with sharing wisdom with the youth of their communities. 

In a rapidly aging and fragmented society, new ideas to promote intergenerational exchange are more important than ever. Older Americans who are disconnected from their communities are at risk of becoming socially isolated, which has been shown to have a significant effect on health and well-being. The National Institute on Aging reports that 28 percent of older adults are socially isolated. At the same time, teenagers in the United States are on the front lines of a national “loneliness epidemic,” with Generation Z suffering the highest rates of loneliness (48 percent) of any generation.

“Intergenerational exchange has been the norm throughout most of history, but for many of us, opportunities to connect with distant age groups have become few and far between,” says Taylor Patskanick, a researcher at the MIT AgeLab and an organizer of the summit. “The OMEGA Summit is a way for students and adults across generations to rediscover and reimagine these forms of connection within a more technologically driven world.”  

Nearly 50 teens, older adult community members, aging-service providers, and educators attended the OMEGA Summit at the MIT AgeLab. They were introduced to the purpose and value of intergenerational programming by AgeLab researchers and had the opportunity to brainstorm and present ideas for intergenerational programs that they might organize in their own communities. 

The students received guidance for their ideas from professionals in the fields of education and aging services. They also received feedback from older adult volunteers from the greater Boston, Massachusetts community, including members of the MIT AgeLab’s Lifestyle Leaders research panel and volunteers from the City of Boston’s Area Agency on Aging

Ideas that the students presented during the summit included “Minder,” an intergenerational skills-exchange and mentoring program, “Kindred,” an app designed to furnish social connections and instrumental assistance between younger people and older adults, and “Smart Seniors,” a program where teenagers instruct older adults on using new technologies.

The summit also featured a presentation by Laura Warnecke, director of resident programming at Five Star Senior Living, on careers in aging. Careers and entrepreneurial opportunities in the “longevity economy” are rapidly growing in the United States. Massachusetts has positioned itself as the “Silicon Valley of aging,” with MIT playing a key role to catalyze the state’s leadership in aging innovation. 

“Preparing for an older population requires reinventing and reimagining what it means to grow older and how different generations relate to each other,” says Joseph Coughlin, director of the MIT AgeLab. “OMEGA empowers younger adults to create new kinds of connections within our increasingly multigenerational households, workplaces, and society.”

In addition to organizing the OMEGA Summit, the MIT AgeLab annually awards OMEGA scholarships to high school juniors and seniors who have developed or led intergenerational programming in their schools or communities. The goal of OMEGA is to strengthen relationships and promote connections across generations.

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