The friendship between a 76 and 17-year-old shows the connection knows no bounds

Antoinette-Marie Williams gave Emmett Daniels a run for his money when they first met over a game of chess two years ago. This leads the two to eagerly await the other’s presence, so they can partner up and play again.

“The first day we played, we were kindred spirits,” he told me as we rode a Zoom with Daniels, whom he hadn’t seen face-to-face in months. “I am a good opponent for him. I don’t think he expected it.”

Daniels smiled, nodding in affirmation. “Our chess games match perfectly,” he said.

Williams, 76, and Daniels, 17, met when Daniels joined the DOROT program in high school, a New York organization that promotes intergenerational support groups by pairing older adults with more young students for a range of activities from sports and affinity groups to music events. It serves 4,000 older adults each year, many of them are homeless, living alone, or longing for connection, according to the organization’s website.

Williams and Daniels have since played many chess games together, and above all of them, have a great conversation outside the doors of the program.

Observing the two interact on camera makes it easy to forget the dynamics of age and the baseless assumption that people of different generations have little in common or that the old is the only teacher. relationship like this.

Before I even started the interview, Daniels eagerly jumped into the conversation to share with Williams that she had been accepted to college. Williams was beaming with excitement and offered his congratulations. “I know you can do it.”

The subject quickly changed, and Daniels said he had recently seen a video of Williams’ skydiving trip.

“I did it again the next summer. You can join me… You know how dogs hang out of a car that blows in the wind? That’s how I feel, and it’s like oh my god, just seeing the world, just being out there in the open 14,500 feet up and up. We all laughed at the vivid image and admired Williams’ fearlessness—and how she said adventure has no age limit.

DOROT, which was launched in 1976 and translates to “generations” in Hebrew, aims to combat social isolation, and more directly, the epidemic of loneliness among the elderly. The organization’s intergenerational program pairs high school seniors with adults 65 and older for weekly virtual and in-person programming at their New York location.

Loneliness is a public health issue

Loneliness and social isolation pose a risk to public health, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Nearly one in four seniors over age 65 is socially isolated, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reports. Social isolation increases people’s risk for heart disease and early death. It is also associated with a 50% increased risk of dementia. LGBTQ+ people and immigrants experience loneliness in higher ratesaccording to research.

“As a family physician and a primary care physician, but more as a son, and a nephew, a caregiver, and a loved one to the people out there in my family and community, it’s very clear to me that loneliness drives a lot of hardship and illness,” Dr. Neil Patel, a primary care physician and chief health officer at Patinawho works to deliver health care to those over 65, said luck. The pandemic is exacerbating the loneliness that the elderly already face.

Losing loved ones, battling health changes and moving into more confined quarters can all lead older people to feel socially isolated at a higher rate than their younger counterparts. -on corresponding.

“We want people to age well, with dignity [and] with confidence the way they want,” says Patel, who advocates finding seniors for their strengths and asking them what is most important to them at their age.

He says that people may mistakenly think that the elderly care too much about their pain and health status, but Patel often finds in his work that maintaining productive social connections instill the greatest sense of pride and joy in older lives. So, it’s no surprise that Williams and Daniels came together over a game of chess, and found a deeper connection with each other.

It’s a connection they long for.

“Emmett is like a son to me. We talk about anything and everything. We talked about what was going on in his life, and that was rewarding for me because young people don’t interact much with older people—just their parents and teachers, and usually the answer is yes or no,” said Williams. “He really poured his heart out and let me in.”

Loneliness is not just an issue for the elderly

Daniels felt the same way. The rigors of school life, and the pressures to perform well especially in the college application process are intense, she said. In many ways, Williams provides a helpful supporter outside of the chaos, as someone with years of experience under his belt to offer advice, and as a true friend. He compares their time together to how he feels on Shabbat, the Jewish religious day of rest, which is when he slows down and cherishes family. Williams felt the same way about him.

“Talking to Antoinette… It was a breath of fresh air. I can just have a conversation and talk about what he likes or what I’m interested in,” he said. “It felt like the perfect disconnect and the perfect recharge.”

Experts say seniors deserve unique ways to participate in society beyond the resources created just for aging.

“Obviously we need to prepare for a huge increase in support networks in the future for this group of people,” said Stephen J. Shaw, a data scientist, and documentary on Birthgap – World Without Children, who studies loneliness around the world, calls the truth a global humanitarian crisis. Simply putting people in nursing homes may not be the best answer to providing that support. We need to look at more integrative societies where we have a mutual responsibility to care for the elderly, whether they have children or not.

Before we all hung up, Daniels remembered one more story he wanted to tell me.

He remembers the last chess game the program offered and how he didn’t go. He later made sure to reschedule and make it to Williams. When she did, she said Williams told her several times, “You made my day, you made my month, you made my year,” she said.

“I made him feel that going through the program was justified, and there was meaning to it, and he appreciated it as much as I did.” His whole family knew those words, he said.

Williams remembers the same moment.

“I was sad when he couldn’t come on the last day so we could play chess together and talk,” he said.

“And I did it,” Daniels added. Whether it’s an upcoming skydiving trip or a casual game of chess in a coffee shop, Williams and Daniels show that intergenerational friendships are not only possible but an important part of keeping people connected as they age.

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