Can college students share accommodation with our older generations? One place in the Netherlands has given it a go!
Between the years of 2011 and 2030 the baby boomer generation will be celebrating their 65th birthdays and will be entering into what has been traditionally described as the ‘elderly population’. The increasing ageing population has resulted in an increase in awareness of age issues such as retiring, the pension, health care issues as well as the different values and perceptions of the elderly compared with other generations. People born in different time periods have different ideals and ideas about the world which can lead to difficulties understanding one another and decreased interactions between youth and the elderly.
One concern for the ageing population is that the misunderstanding between generations can lead to negative consequences such as isolation, poor health and lack of support. Studies exploring attitudes of college students toward older people have generally indicated negative attitudes about the elderly as well as a lack of knowledge about aging. However, research has also found that intergenerational service learning can be beneficial not only for the elderly but also for young people and the wider community.
The Humanitas retirement home in Deventer, Netherlands has collaborated with local universities to create an intergenerational program that benefits both the university students and the aged care residents. Humanitas retirement home has allowed university students to live rent-free with the elderly residents as part of a project aimed at warding off the negative effects of aging. In exchange for the small rent-free apartments, students are required to spend at least 30 hours a month acting as ‘good neighbours’. The students do a variety of activities with the older residents including watching sports, celebrating birthdays and offering company to seniors who fall ill. A report in 2012 by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that isolation and loneliness in older men and women are associated with increased mortality. The Humanitas retirement home project is working on decreasing the disconnectedness sometimes felt by retirement home residents.
Currently there are six students sharing the retirement home with approximately 160 seniors. Students are allowed to come and go as they please and have people over as long as they follow one rule: Do not be a nuisance to the elderly. Officials at the retirement home have said the students are breathing new life into the home and seem to be getting as much out of the arrangement as the seniors. The students bring the outside world in. Some of them share what they have learned at university with the older residents. The program has been running so well, that retirement homes is France, Spain and America have started their own.
How seniors benefit from interacting with today’s youth
Erik Erikson, a developmental psychologist in the early 1900’s, proposed that the last stage of lifespan development starts at age 60. During this time, people seek to find meaning in their lives. Developing connections with younger generations can help seniors feel a greater sense of fulfillment. In fact interacting with younger generations can provide many benefits including:
- Learning about new technology and trends
- Seeing the world through younger eyes can encourage older adults to get up and doing things which can reduce depression and improve health
- Provide older adults with a sense of purpose
- Reduce isolation
- Help keep family stories and traditions alive
- Social interaction and social activities help reduce stress and build the body’s natural defences to fight off illness and disease
Author: Melanie Green