A unique program in the Netherlands is combining two very different communities into one by housing students in retirement homes.
The Residential and Care Center Humanitas in Deventer hosts six students. They room for free in exchange for 30 hours of volunteer work per month. The students share skills with elderly residents like how to Skype with their families and how to do graffiti art.
Student housing in the Netherlands is scarce and of poor quality, and can cost an average of €366 per month. Amsterdam was 9,000 rooms short last year.
Since a 2012 policy shift in which the country’s government quit funding residential care for those over 80 who weren’t in dire need, long-term care communities began to suffer as well and started to look for solutions. Two additional nursing homes in the Netherlands have followed Humanitas’s model, and another in Lyon, France began to let rooms to students. Judson Manor in Cleveland, USA has been accepting students for years.
Gea Sijpkes, Director and CEO of Humanitas, said:
That’s when I thought of a group of other people– in this case, students– that also don’t have much money. If they could get a room in Humanitas, they wouldn’t have to borrow so much money for their study. At the same time, I have some young people in the house, which makes Humanitas the warmest and nicest home in which everybody who needs care would want to live.
One student at Humanitas, Jurriën Mentink, made friends with a resident by giving her computer help. Then, one night, she became extremely agitated and attacked a nurse. His presence calmed her down, reports Tiffany R. Jansen of City Lab. He said:
When she saw me, it was like 180 degrees around. She was instantly relaxed and happy to see me.
Once she had stabilized, they watched the classic movie Dirty Dancing together until it was time for Mentink to go to work.
A resident at Judson Manor in the US, Richard K. Gardner, described the care center opening its doors to college students in 2010. Katie Herzog of Grist quoted his initial reluctance:
When the idea was proposed, some residents were afraid of wild parties. [But] it has far exceeded any of our expectations. It’s hard to overestimate what it’s done for the culture here.
It’s a win-win financially and emotionally. Social interaction is key for helping the elderly retain their cognitive faculties and avoid slipping into depression. A study from the University of California, San Francisco found that loneliness in the elderly resulted in quicker health declines and earlier deaths, writes Camille Lawhead of A Plus. Matthew Kaplan, a professor of intergenerational programs and aging at Pennsylvania State University, says that long-term relationships like the ones at Humanitas do much more good than short visits by younger people in which there isn’t much time to build rapport.