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Commentary: Unlikely roommates

Re-imagining housing for seniors

I first became aware of intergenerational housing when visiting our aunt in a long-term care facility in the Netherlands.  

There were students living in the facility with the residents. It changed the atmosphere considerably.

As part of a volunteer agreement, students spend time teaching residents new skills, like email, social media, skyping, and even graffiti art.

For the residents, the students represent a connection to the outside world.

When the students come home from a class, concert, or party, they share those experiences with their elderly neighbours. The conversation moves from aches and pains to whether a student’s girlfriend will be staying the night.

There was also a kindergarten and daycare in the same facility. That will have to be the topic for another article.

There are endless opportunities to bring joy into seniors’ care by simply thinking outside of what has typically been done. As the population ages, we will need to look at more opportunities for improving quality of life for seniors.

Social isolation and loneliness is not the exclusive domain of seniors. Students and older adults have common pressures such as housing challenges, loss of family connections and financial stress.

By bringing these two demographics together and alleviating some of their primary stressors, opportunities can be created for new connections and deeper community.

When most of us think about student housing we think of crowded student dorms, basement suites or shared off-campus housing.

For many of us, seniors housing is not the first thing that springs to mind when we think of where university and college students might choose to live.  

A google search revealed innovative models which invite students to live in independent and assisted living homes at free or subsidized rates.

These living arrangements could be the kind of innovation that the sector needs.

They marry two needs, a need to provide students with affordable housing and the need to increase quality of life for seniors.  

We learned the following from the University of Toronto Magazine: a provincially funded partnership between the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly housed at the University of Toronto and the City of Toronto, matched 12 Toronto post-secondary students with older adults willing to rent their unused space for the academic year.

Based on the applicants’ lifestyles and preferences on matters such as alcohol, pets and smoking, social workers create a match and then attend an in-person meeting to evaluate whether the two individuals connect well in real life.

Students undergo a vulnerable sector screening a police background check and complete an educational module on living with older people that includes subjects such as elder abuse and how to engage with seniors.

Both parties can access the social worker for support and mediation after they’re living together.

The results show there is a true sense of reciprocity, where both parties contributed to each other’s lives.

Participation in intergenerational housing and meaningful cross-age relationships may decrease social isolation and increase older adults’ sense of belonging, self-esteem, and well-being, while also improving social and emotional skills of younger adults.

Submitted by the Age-Friendly Committee of the Olds Institute.