Intergenerational Living

You're Never Too Old (or Young) to be a Good Neighbor

by Mary Boland

Housing is often a particular issue for two groups of people: students and older adults. While college costs only seem to be growing, the need for affordable student housing has never been greater. And for older adults, moving to a nursing home or assisted living apartment often leaves them anxious, lonely, and frustrated.

Humanitas Retirement Home in Deventer, Netherlands, has taken on both these issues and produced one common solution. Students at the nearby university are granted rent-free living in the retirement home. The catch? Each student must dedicate 30 hours per month to the elderly residents—whether teaching them computer lessons, helping with everyday chores, or simply being present and listening to their stories. Currently the home has four students, all of whom are active members of the residents’ lives. Humanitas prides itself on being the warmest and most welcoming center in Deventer. The older adults have the opportunity to learn from their young housemates about the changing times and outside world, while the students benefit from interactions with older adults brimming with a wealth of experiential knowledge. The sense of community invigorated with youth fosters a new level of well-being for the residents that keeps them feeling younger themselves.

The phenomenon can also be found stateside in Cleveland, Ohio, at Judson Manor Senior Living where students from the Cleveland Institute of Music are granted free room and board with the simple obligation to perform for the residents—and sometimes with the residents—on a regular basis. The artists-in-residence program has expanded to include students from the Institute of Art who administer art therapy to the residents. Both Institutes, along with Case Western Reserve University, are part of the University Circle campus in walking distance of Judson Manor. At present, five students—three musicians and two artists—live at Judson. The Manor is growing its program in partnership with Case Western Reserve University, to engage both current students and retired alumni. Judson also plays host to a number of young adults through collaborations with nearby schools, whether it is eighth graders helping residents write their life stories or university students aiding in technology services. A steady flow of young people breathes a consistent fresh new air to aging residents.

The trend hopefully will continue to grow internationally as both students and older adults learn to take pleasure in each other’s company and cultivate a deeper community of well-being.

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