Dutch nursing home offers rent-free housing to students

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Student Onno Selbach does activities with two of our inhabitants. Photo courtesy of Humanitas.

Student Onno Selbach interacts with two nursing home residents at Humanitas in the Netherlands. Selbach helped create an intergenerational program there that offers students rent-free housing. Photo courtesy of Humanitas

A nursing home in the Netherlands allows university students to live rent-free alongside the elderly residents, as part of a project aimed at warding off the negative effects of aging.

In exchange for small, rent-free apartments, the Humanitas retirement home in Deventer, Netherlands, requires students to spend at least 30 hours per month acting as “good neighbors,” Humanitas head Gea Sijpkes said in an email to PBS NewsHour.

Officials at the nursing home say students do a variety of activities with the older residents, including watching sports, celebrating birthdays and, perhaps most importantly, offering company when seniors fall ill, which helps stave off feelings of disconnectedness.

Both social isolation and loneliness in older men and women are associated with increased mortality, according to a 2012 report by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

“The students bring the outside world in, there is lots of warmth in the contact,” Sijpkes said.

Six students from area universities Saxion and Windesheim share the building with approximately 160 seniors. They are allowed to come and go as they please, as long as they follow one rule: Do not be a nuisance to the elderly.

Sijpkes joked that this is not difficult for the younger residents, especially since most of the older people living at the home are hard of hearing.

The program started two years ago after Sijpkes received an inquiry from a Onno Selbach, a student who complained about the noise and poor conditions of school housing. Sijpkes responded and they began to talk and design the exchange program.

Similar intergenerational programs exist in Lyons, France and Cleveland, Ohio, according to the International Association of Homes and Services for the Ageing. One program that began in Barcelona, Spain in the late 1990s has been replicated in more than 20 cities throughout the country.

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