Nursing Home Doubles As Student Dorm

A nursing home located in Portland, Maine has taken on an innovative approach to connecting with its senior residents. Saint Joseph’s Rehabilitation and Residence has started a program called the Intergenerational Living Project. The program is a first of its kind in the area and adopts the concept from a program in the Netherlands that combines seniors, their families, and students in a shared living community.

The program has six students from Saint Joseph’s College, University of Southern Maine, and Southern Maine Community College, not only working at the nursing home but also living there for free. Each student must work a minimum of 16 hours a week as either a Certified Nursing Assistant or a Neighborhood Assistant and pays around 12$ an hour. The housing for the students is more spacious than any dorm and can fit a double bed, desk, bookshelves, television, and also boasts a private bathroom.

The program allows students to provide comfort and assistance to patients 24/7 and has patients teach the students valuable lessons. Resident Pat Flagg explains, “People are human; they have a day when they’re not very good and I hope they learn to live with that and look beyond it to see the person who is maybe unhappy or hurting and finding that out and relating to that problem.”

Administrator Peggy Farrington says she modeled the intergenerational living program after the same one in the Netherlands. Social isolation and loneliness in older men and women are associated with increased mortality. In the Humanitas retirement home in Deventer, Netherlands, six students from nearby universities share the building with about 160 seniors.

“The students bring the outside world in, there is lots of warmth and contact,” says Humanitas head Gea Sijpkes. The students can come and go as they please as long as they adhere to one rule: Don’t be a nuisance to the elderly residents. The students live in their rent-free apartments and are required to spend at least 30 hours per month acting as good neighbors. They do a variety of activists with the seniors including watching sports, celebrating birthdays, and offering company when the older residents fall ill. This helps decrease the seniors from feeling disconnected and alone, helping to ward off the negative effects of aging. Students also help teach residents new skills such as email, social media, and even Skype.

This integrated program is also gaining popularity. Two more nursing homes in the Netherlands opened with the same program and a similar program was recently introduced in Lyon, France. This new type of arrangement benefits everyone and brings warmth and love to a much-needed aging population while keeping costs down. Could this be the future of retirement homes? We’ll see.

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