Laura Carstensen, a Stanford psychology professor and Director of the Stanford Center for Longevity, said, “Contrary to widespread beliefs that older populations consume resources that would otherwise go to youth, there is growing reason to think that older people may be just the resource children need.”
Carstensen’s prior research has found that as people age, their brains actually improve in many ways, including in complex problem-solving and emotional skills. “It is a huge loss for society not to offer such counsel and experience to others, especially young people,” she said.
The aging population has “distinctive qualities to meet the needs of youth,” she and her co-authors wrote. “Older adults are exceptionally suited to meet these needs in part because they welcome meaningful, productive activity and engagement. They seek – and need – purpose in their lives.”
As for older adults, Carsten’s report pointed out, they benefit as well, experiencing emotional satisfaction in relationships with young people. One way to achieve such contact is through volunteer service, which is associated with better physical health and cognitive performance for aging people. From a societal view, these interactions are positive, too.
“Focusing volunteer efforts on young people improve their (young people’s) chances of success in life,” Carstensen said. “These mutual benefits are perhaps the most compelling reason for programs that connect young and old.”