The Smart Plan that Could Benefit Both Students and the Elderly

Industrialized countries sure have an off-putting way of treating their elderly citizens. By the time people get old they’re viewed as a burden to society and are separated from the general population. Even if the care for seniors in retirement communities is good, the residents are still likely to experience feelings of isolation.

One retirement home in Deventer, Netherlands has helped squash the generational divide though, by inviting six college students to move into the building. The students at Humanitas are not employees, just younger people who live and eat alongside the 160 seniors who reside there. It’s an experiment that has led to plenty of cross-generational interactions.

While the Humanitas staff takes care of the typical work of running a retirement community, they’re generally too busy to attend to the residents’ social needs. That’s where the college students come in–they’re there to be friendly faces to the residents and ensure that lonely residents aren’t feeling isolated. For an average of an hour each day, the students socialize with or assist their neighbors at minor tasks.

“They go see the pensioners for a chat, they play games, go with them to the shopping center, [or] do shopping for those who can’t,” said Arjen Meihuizen, a staffer at Humanitas. One student, Jurrien, teaches residents how to use the computer so they can better keep in touch via the internet with people outside of the retirement building.

It’s not an entirely selfless act for the students, either. For volunteering their time they pay no rent at Humanitas, easing the financial problems that many young full-time students face. On the whole, the students seem happy with the accommodations at the retirement home, noting that if they were to find their own apartments they would be paying too much for half the space, which they’d have to share with a roommate. Because of the layout at Humanitas, the students each get their own private room, kitchenette, and bathroom.

As expected, the generational gap does lead to some differences in lifestyles. The younger residents at Humanitas don’t have to sacrifice relationships with their peers to live in the home, and are permitted to bring friends and romantic partners over for visits. Jurrien references a time he accidentally woke up his neighbor Johanna in the middle of the night, but they managed to sort out their problems with apologies and respect. “I’m old, he’s young, but we get along well,” said Johanna.

It’s an unusual partnership, but a mutually beneficial one that should be replicated more often. I see no reason why similar programs couldn’t be implemented here in the United States. Considering how much debt college students enter into, I’m sure many would jump at the chance to live near school rent-free. While it would take a certain type of kind-hearted person to interact well with elderly neighbors, those not suited for such an arrangement are unlikely to apply to give up their dorm lifestyle anyway.

The closest American example I’ve found that compares to the Netherland’s model is at the Judson Manor in Cleveland, Ohio. The 100-resident home invites three local music students to live on the premises for free in exchange for regularly scheduled music performances. According to interviews, residents and students alike are very happy with this deal, proving it can be success.

Though space is sometimes a concern at overcrowded facilities, given how the quality of life improves for seniors in these living arrangements it seems worthwhile to allocate at least a few rooms to people from a younger generation, especially as it can help improve mental wellness amongst retirement home residents.

Image credit: ThinkStock

55 comments

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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sandra vito
Sandra Vito4 years ago

gracias

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dagmar karin dag
dagmar karin dag4 years ago

Es una gran idea,ya que el contacto entre ambas generaciones es un vinculo que enseña a comprender a unos el pasado y a otros el presente,la genracion antigua,inicio los cambios culturales que beneficia a la nueva,y la nueva,integra a los mayores al avance tecnologico,que ha sido vertiginoso,

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Shirley Layfield
Shirley Layfield4 years ago

This is an excellent idea!

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Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey4 years ago

What a great idea.

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Judy W.
Judy W4 years ago

This is a fabulous idea.

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Mahmoud Khalil
Mahmoud Khalil4 years ago

noted

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Bill Eagle
Bill Eagle4 years ago

A great idea, and something that the US should emulate. It is good for the students as well as the old people.

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Muff-Anne York-Haley

What an awesome idea:))

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