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The College Dorm Nursing Home

Intergenerational living is growing on or near college campuses, with benefits for both students and senior citizens. 

| BY Kent McDill

Senior citizen advocates endlessly exclaim that the health of older Americans living in assisted living or nursing homes benefit from any interaction with younger people.

Meanwhile, a trend in college housing toward high-end, resort-style apartments is making housing costs rise, and some students simply can’t afford to live at the Ritz.

Which brings us to Deventer, Netherlands, where the Humanitas retirement home invites college students to live in small, rent-free apartments in the same building as their retirement facilities in exchange for spending 30 hours a month interacting with the retirees.

The idea of shared space between young college students and older citizens in need of social interaction is now slowly coming to the United States. It’s known as intergenerational living, and it’s an idea spreading to college campuses that are seeing an increase in enrollment and needing an idea for housing those students.

According to a 2012 report by the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, older people with limited or no social interaction develop more severe health issues and are more likely to die than older Americans who have social encounters.

The retirees in Deventer are now assured of social encounters. The college students are asked to watch televised sporting events, celebrate birthdays, or just visit residents who have fallen ill or expressing loneliness.

“The students bring the outside world in, there is lots of warmth in the contact,” said Humanitas spokesman Gea Sijpkes in an interview with the Public Broadcasting System.

This level of interaction is far preferable to the more occasional and shorter visits that often occur when a service group like the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts drop by for a visit. In the case of the Netherlands retirement home, actual relationships are built.

The students come from local universities Saxion and Windesheim. Six students live there rent-free, and are now companions to the 160 seniors living in the building. Unlike the seniors, the college students are free to leave or return at any time of the day or night, with the caveat that they cannot disturb the retirees.

According to PBS, there is a similar living situation in several locations in Spain, as well as in Lyons, France. There is also one in Cleveland, and one in Florida.

At the Cleveland Institutes of Art and Music, students are able to live in Judson Retirement Communities and volunteer their time to the residents there. This arrangement came when the Institute began having trouble finding housing for its students.

At Judson, the students perform for the residents and also coordinate the community’s cultural programming.

“Residents have said the students add a youthful energy to the atmosphere,’’ Judson Services President Cynthia Dunn said. “The music students benefit from having a mature, knowledgeable and attention audience of music lovers. The residents really care about the students and offer supportive feedback about their performances. Many of the students say they feel the residents are an extension of their own family.”

In Deland, Fla., a former hotel where students have been living for two years is being converted into an assisted living facility, but the 85 Stetson University students will be allowed to remain on the upper floors of what is now the Grand Villa of Deland.

“We are not worried about it working at all,’’ said Stetson campus life vice Provost Lua Hancock to the Daytona Bach News-Journal. “We have been in conversations with the owners about working together on opportunities such as internships and volunteer hours for our students.”

“We are looking forward to this,’’ said Grand Villa sales manager Colleen Guay. “This is pretty neat. Both age groups can learn a lot from each other.”

About the Author

Kent McDill

Kent McDill is a staff writer for Millionaire Corner. McDill spent 30 years as a sports writer, working for United Press International and the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill. From 1988-1999, he covered the Chicago Bulls for the Daily Herald, traveling with them every day through the nine-month season. He also covered the Bulls for UPI from 1985-88, and currently covers the team for He has written two books on the Bulls, including the new title “100 Things Bulls Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die’, published by Triumph Books. In August 2013, his new book “100 Things Bears Fans Should Know And Do Before They Die” gets published.

In 2008, he resigned from the Herald and became a freelance writer. The Herald hired him to write business features and speeches for the Daily Herald Business Conferences and Awards presentations.

McDill also writes a monthly parenting column for the Herald’s Suburban Parent magazine.

McDill is the father of four children, and an active fan of soccer, Jimmy  Buffett and all things Disney.