Here’s What Happens When Students Move Into a Nursing Home

College students and nursing home residents share more than just space at this Dutch long-term care facility – they share a special bond.

Nov 19, 2015
Special Collections: CONNECTING HEARTS
Student Jordi Pronk shares a laugh with a fellow resident of the Humanitas home

College students teach computer skills, assist, and provide companionship for their elderly neighbors (citylab)

Feed two birds with one scone. That’s what the long-term care center for seniors, Humanitas, had in mind when they decided to offer the extra housing in their facility to college students. Rent in the Netherlands is high, and there’s a significant shortage in student housing. Meanwhile, government funding for nursing homes has dropped and many facilities are trying to find new ways to attract residents.


In exchange for staying in the vacant rooms free of charge, the students agreed to volunteer for 30 hours a month, teaching the residents skills like email and social media, spending time with them, and watching re-runs of Dirty Dancing together.


Yet, it’s clear that - beyond the obligatory volunteering hours - the six college students and the elderly residents that both live at Humanitas have developed an undeniable connection. They watch sports together, celebrate each other's’ birthdays, share stories with one another about their day – one student even makes a daily stop at the fish market to pick up his neighbor’s favorite fillets.

Student Onno Selbach interacts with two nursing home residents at Humanitas in the Netherlands Students bring a much-needed warmth and energy to Humanitas, which is appealing to potential residents 

Jurriën Mentink is one of Humanitas’ college students. In an interview with The Atlantic, Mentink recalls a night when one of the residents he taught computer skills to was extremely agitated and nothing the staff did seemed to help. He says, “when she saw me, it was like 180 degrees around. She was instantly relaxed and happy to see me.” They spent the rest of the night watching TV together.


Inter-generational relationships are important for a number of reasons. Loneliness is scientifically linked to mental decline, whereas regular social interaction has been found to improve health in older adults, and younger generations stand to gain new perspectives and wisdom. As Matthew Kaplan, a professor of intergenerational programs and aging at Pennsylvania State University, told The Atlantic, true connections are the ones that really pay off. In his words: “it’s not until [the older and younger people] have a real relationship...that it becomes meaningful.”


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Mirele writes about everything related to doing good, with a particular interest in volunteering and social entrepreneurship, informed by her background in eco tourism.

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