A successful best practice of intergenerational coexistence comes from Holland. Humanitas nursing home, in Deventer, a little more than an hour by train from Amsterdam, hosts university students for free, as of 2012, in exchange for volunteering with elderly people living in the care home.
At Humanitas there are at present 160 residents over 85, who have as neighbours 6 university students in their twenties. In exchange for 30 hours per month of volunteering with elderly people of the nursing home young people get vacant rooms for free.
«However most of the times», explains Peter Daniels, care worker at Humanitas, «young people volunteer spontaneously 60 or 90 hours with the elderly people of our home».
The benefits are enormous, especially for the old people, but also for the young people.
«They (The elderly people, editor's note) say», explains Gea Sijpkes, CEO of Humanitas, in an interview with ABC-Australian Broadcasting Corporation- «that the young ones bring the outside world inside their lives and their building».
«When the students come home from a class, concert, or party, they share those experiences with their elderly neighbors. The conversation moves from aches and pains to whether a student’s girlfriend will be staying the night», precises an article published on Citylab.
A 2012 study by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America reveals that social isolation and loneliness of elderly people are associated to mental decline and mortality, and it has been found that interaction with friends and family improves the health of old people. Very simple things, such as a warm greeting, watch together a tv programme, eat together fresh fish bought at the market, can mean a lot for the senior guests of the nursing home.
The impact of the programme is also extremely positive for the graduate students: it gives youth a sense of connection with the old generations, explains an article published on The Independent, «significantly increasing the likelihood that they will continue to volunteer after university».
«A student of the programme lost her father and her 86 years old neighbour helped her during the difficult period», explains Peter Daniels, «therefore the interaction is very personal, long-lasting friendships develop, and both of them (young and elderly people, editor's note) make the other happy».
Mr Daniels continues: «The parents of another student who lives in the retirement home have told us that their son has become more social, so that he has decided to change his study plan from urban design to social design». Therefore the programme has a great impact on students’ life. Long lasting and genuine relationships form between elderly people and young people.
Students can come and go as they please, as long as they don’t disturb their old neighbours. What is asked them is “to be good neighbours”, explains Mr Daniels. This is the second generation of students that volunteer. Young people stay on average three years in the nursing home.
The aim of the programme is to make Humanitas «the warmest and nicest house where every elderly person wants to live», says Sijpkes in the article published on ABC.
And Humanitas has managed to accomplish this: as a matter of fact, as explains Mr Daniels, «now we have a sort of waiting list and people residing in other nursing homes want to come to us, because here there is never a dull moment, if you want peace you can have peace, if you want action you can find action every day».
The community involved by Humanitas is increasingly growing: «The programme also involves people with disabilities, who are 5 at the moment and live in our building. We support them and in turn they help the elderly people, going for a walk with them, or going shopping with them. There are 150 people who work in the nursing home, helped by 200 volunteers, who are people living in the surrounding area, retired people, but not only», precises Mr Daniels. «Sometimes there are teenage mothers and fathers who come visit us, sometimes groups of schoolchildren…, therefore we are taking more and more responsibility towards the area surrounding us», concludes Mr Daniels.
Humanitas is a modern care home, with lots of services: the ground floor is open to the public and offers restaurants, a barber shop, shops, bars…
The main duty of the students is to take care of the dinner of the elderly people during the week. The management of the remaining time is decided by the students together with their old neighbours. Tasks can go from watching tv together, offer company when senior guests are ill, celebrate birthdays with the elderly people, teach them how to use social media, Skype, and even teach them graffiti art.
How was the programme born? In 2012 there was a change in Holland in the regulation on long-term assistance, so that costs for elderly people care increased a lot «and therefore 60% of our population could not stay in our home because the care was becoming too expensive , so we had to make a plan», explains Mr Daniels. «And because the care money is the same for every institution it’s hard to make a distinction in care, but you can make a distinction in well being, making people happy, and that is all we did», concludes Mr Daniels.
Gea Sijpkes came up with the idea of the programme. Faced with increasing costs of elderly people care and also of accommodation for students Humanitas’ CEO has thought about hosting for free university students, because this way there would have been “a social return on investments to fight elderly people’s loneliness”.
This intergenerational cohabitation model is spreading internationally. Since Humanitas opened its doors to students in 2012, two care homes in Holland have launched similar programmes, and one in Lyon, France.
Opening picture: student Sores Duman with Mrs Marty. All other pictures are by Humanitas Deventer.