Some new residents are moving into the Humanitas retirement home near Amsterdam, and they certainly stand out next to the people who already live there. For one thing, these new residents could be the current residents’ grandchildren.
Thanks to a new innovation, six students, with ages ranging from 18 to 22, have moved into the 160-resident retirement home, completely free of rent. If that doesn’t make sense to you, it will. Though they don’t pay any rent, the students earn their keep by spending at least 30 hours a month interacting with the senior residents, serving meals, hosting classes and workshops, running or helping with errands, and spending quality time with everyone.
The head of the Humanitas retirement home, Gea Sijpkes, came up with the arrangement. She maintains that senior citizens must be kept socially involved, citing isolation as a major cause of depression and other mental health issues.
Budget cuts across the Netherlands have made it harder for seniors to find quality housing. Many facilities don’t have the funding to keep enough staff on to give residents the attention they need. This plan, Sijpkes says, provides a win-win situation for the seniors and the students. “I want to be the warmest and nicest house where every elderly person wants to live,” Sijpkes says. “But…if you do that with staff, then it costs a lot. If you do that with students, then there is a social return on investment against loneliness.”
22-year-old Jurrien offers weekly computer lessons to 85-year-old resident Anton. Thanks to Jurrien’s tutelage, Anton can “send emails, go on the Internet, look up videos, and go on Facebook.”
The project has been going well so far. The students help the seniors with errands and daily activities, but also plan activities based on the seniors’ interests—which are more diverse than you might think. For example, one group took an interest in graffiti art, so a student named Jordi took them outside and taught them how to use spray paint. They spent an afternoon creating designs on cardboard.
Sijpkes says that the residents feel the young people bring the outside world into their homes and into their lives. They are happy to learn about music scenes, trends, and, of course, the students’ romantic lives.
The residents are enjoying the students’ presence as well, learning new things and getting a much-needed connection to the rest of the world. The position isn’t free of drawbacks, though. The students do have to deal with the reality of their elderly friends getting sick and passing away, but many of them take it in stride and remain committed to staying.
Sijpkes says that while the primary benefits are for the seniors, the students are benefitting from the intergenerational exchanges as well. “It’s a very good thing to connect young and old people together,” she says. “They can offer each other very nice things in life.”
This program is not the only one of its kind in the world. Other intergenerational programs can be found in Lyons, France, and Cleveland, Ohio. Hopefully, this catches on elsewhere and gradually improves the current senior care system. In the meantime, this is a nice first step towards progress.