In October 2017, Western University embarked on a fascinating social experiment that involved placing three upper-year music students in a retirement living facility to interact with the senior residents, while sharing meals and living quarters. The concept behind this revolutionary program was to provide an “intergenerational opportunity for both young and old to learn from each other.”
This is not the first example of post-secondary students living alongside seniors in a retirement residence; in 2008, two students at Quinnipiac University lived in an assisted living home in Wallingford, Connecticut for one year, providing care to residents for at least eight hours a week. Like the program at Western University, the intent of the Quinnipiac program was to break down the barriers and stigma of ageism, and for students to gain a better perspective of the senior community.
While programs such as these are not commonplace for North American universities, the benefits are invaluable for both seniors and students.
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A Spanish dissertation entitled Effects of Intergenerational Interaction on Aging, conducted by Carmen Requena Hernandez at the University of Leon studied 179 university students and 101 seniors who were placed together in a service-learning program. The preconceived belief going into this study was that age segregation encourages a lack of understanding between older and younger people, and this “generalization of behavior between age groups makes us fall back on stereotypes.” With this in mind, both the seniors and students performed pre and post-tests to determine their personal wellbeing and stereotyped perceptions of each other.
The study had remarkable results:
The study concluded that “old age is not a new issue; however, great numbers of elderly people and an aging population are. This makes it necessary to foster an understanding of growing old among people of all ages.”
Hernandez is not the first to prove that socialization with youth can improve senior health. Scientific American published an article that revealed the benefits of intergenerational socialization for seniors, revealing that “through social interactions alone, the young can pass some of their vigor on to the elderly, improving the older generation’s cognitive abilities and vascular health and even increasing their life span.”
It’s safe to say that students’ time spent with seniors does not just benefit young people – the lives of seniors are enriched as well.
Programs like the ones at Western and Quinnipiac Universities help students with the cost of post-secondary education while also giving them an opportunity to give back. “I’m just excited to hopefully make a difference here and put some smiles on some faces,” said Sarah, a junior studying occupational therapy at Quinnipiac University about her move to the assisted living home.
With numerous benefits to seniors and students, we hope that more colleges and universities partner with senior living communities to offer intergenerational living in the hopes of increasing understanding and reducing ageism.
What do you think about students receiving free board in exchange for spending time with seniors? We’d like to hear your thoughts in the comments below.