A Dutch nursing home has established a program providing free rent to university students in exchange for 30 hours a month of their time. This project is being spearheaded by Humanitas Deventer, CEO Gea Spikes, keeping in mind a simple thing- reducing loneliness and social isolation improves well-being and extends life expectancy in the elderly.
Seeing that university students share a similar fate to the elderly people, i.e., loneliness, isolation and day-to-day frustration due to all this, increases the chance of this initiative bearing fruitful results.
Since 2011 student volunteers from the university’s Department of English and Film donate their time to bring conversation, literature, and friendship to the residents of over ten residential care homes across the city. And since the project’s inception, it is estimated that around 250 active volunteers have reached over 500 elderly residents – at least half of whom have dementia.
Video Courtsey: World Economic Forum
The students in their early twenties share their lives with the aged residents in their eighties and nineties. As part of the volunteer agreement, the students also spend time teaching residents new skills- like how to email, use social media, Skype, and even graffiti art.
These students also share and read aloud poetry to the elderly as research has shown that this helps people suffering from dementia and brings comfort and reassurance through hearing and reciting familiar verses.
Residents regain a sense of themselves as “a whole person, past and present”, as one care home manager put it. And in one brilliant example, a 100-year-old resident found a shared play-reading session with one student volunteer revived long-buried leading-lady speeches once delivered when she was an actress.
Video Courtsey: AFP
This program also helps the overstretched staff as this reduces their work somehow. It is also a very good sign that students do not see this as a “burden”. Rather, they look forward to their weekly visits. They find it a space they can share poetry and stories- away from the constant demands of assessments.
All in all, this is a great initiative taken and other nations should also do something similar which will benefit the society in this way, that is, reduction in tuition fees of students and caring for the elderly.
By: Anamika Bhaumik