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Dutch Retirement Home Offers Free Rent for Students in Exchange for Interaction with the Elderly

A Dutch nursing home has come up with an innovative plan to get young college kids to interact with the elderly. They’re offering small, rent-free apartments to the students, in exchange for at least 30 hours a month of spending quality time with their older neighbors.

According to the officials at Humanitas retirement home in Deventer, the students participate in a variety of activities with older residents – watching sports, celebrating birthdays, and offering company when they’re ill. It’s a unique win-win situation – the students are able to enjoy free accommodation, and it also solves the problems of isolation and loneliness among the elderly.

“It’s important not to isolate the elderly from the outside world,” explained Humanitas head Gea Sijpkes. “When you’re 96 years old with a knee problem, well, the knee isn’t going to get any better, the doctors can’t do much. But what we can do is create an environment where you forget about the painful knee. The students bring the outside world in, there is lots of warmth in the contact.”

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Photo: AFP / Nicolas Delaunay

Currently, there are six students from Saxion and Windesheim universities sharing the building with around 160 seniors. The kids are allowed to come and go as they please, and have friends over. There’s only one rule – don’t be a nuisance. And Sijpkes said that the younger residents aren’t finding the rule too difficult to follow, because most of the seniors are hard of hearing.

“They go see the pensioners for a chat, they play games, go with them to the shopping centre, (and) do shopping for those who can’t,” added activity coordinator Arjen Meihuizen. The students prepare simple meals for the elderly in the evening, and offer other innovative activities as well.

One student, Jordi, took a group of seniors into the garden one day and gave them cans of spray paint so they could learn about graffiti. Jurrien, another student, gives weekly computer lessons to 85-year-old Anton Groot Koerkamp. “Now I can send emails, go on the internet, look up videos and go on Facebook,” the octogenarian said proudly.

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Photo: AFP / Nicolas Delaunay

The idea for the program came about two years ago, when Sijpkes received an inquiry for accommodation from university student Onno Selbach, who wasn’t happy with the poor conditions of school housing. Sijpkes responded to the request, and the two began to design the exchange program.

And the students appear to be quite happy with the arrangement: “Not only do I not pay any rent, but I also like working with the elderly,” said 22-year-old journalism student Denise. “Given that student rooms are too small, dirty and too expensive, this is a fantastic alternative.”

“For 400 euro I’d get barely 10 square meters and I’d have to share the kitchen and bathroom,” said Jurrien. “Here I have twice as much space and I have my own kitchen and bathroom.”

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Photo: AFP / Nicolas Delaunay

The sharing idea has resonated with people across the nation, many of whom do a lot of volunteer work. Other retirement homes are coming up with their own variations of the idea.

This isn’t the first program of its kind, though – similar intergenerational programs have been implemented elsewhere in the world. In Lyon, France, a project was set up for students to pay subsidised rent to live at a retirement home. Other variations have been in place in Cleveland, Ohio, and Barcelona, Spain.

Sources: PBS, The Journal

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