The Importance of Bringing Students and Seniors Together

As it becomes more commonplace for seniors to be living alone, we discuss bringing students and seniors together to help combat loneliness.

The Importance of Bringing Students and Seniors Together

Our housing models have changed over time in Canada. It used to be that parents, children, and grandparents would reside together, but it’s more common today for seniors to be living alone.

However, there’s been a growing trend of intergenerational housing, and it’s expected to continue now that the COVID-19 pandemic has rampaged nursing and retirement homes and many adults have found themselves in financial distress, forcing them to move back in with their parents.

This trend is probably for the best, as it solves the issue of social isolation within the older-adult population. An article in the BC Medical Journal states that loneliness is correlated with a decline in function, lower self-reported health scores, and overall mortality in older adults, which is why an increase in social interaction is necessary for improving the health of the elderly.

On an institutional level, many organizations in Canada are implementing intergenerational housing to improve the well-being of both seniors and post-secondary students.

Similar programs exist in Europe, which is where the inspiration comes from. One of the organizations bringing intergenerational living to Canada, Happipad, mentions that countries like the Netherlands, France, Finland, Spain, and Germany have retirement communities sponsored by universities to increase the availability of housing for students while providing the elderly with companionship.

Seniors get social interaction, while the students get cheaper rent, new perspectives, and help transitioning to new environments (in the case of international students).

Seeing the success of these programs in Europe, Canadian universities and other institutions have likewise tried implementing intergenerational housing.

McMaster University launched a program in 2017 called Symbiosis, which matches students with seniors for co-housing in Hamilton and the surrounding area.

The housing model, proven to work around the world, creates a win-win situation for those involved. Students in need of low-cost housing get connected with seniors who have a spare room and would benefit from extra support and companionship.

Additionally, international students who are working to improve their English skills have greater opportunity to practice through conversation.

There are two different housing options for the students: a low cost room and a free room in exchange for modest help around the house.

Students and seniors choose one of these options based on their needs and the university conducts interviews to better understand the participants before matching them together.

Although the program has found success, as evidenced by the testimonials from the participants, there are a couple areas of the program that McMaster plans to improve in the near future.

One challenge that lowers the number of participants is the fear that seniors have of accepting strangers into their homes. McMaster hopes to overcome this through social events with community members, which will also help to clarify the thoroughness of their process.

McMaster also plans to use technology to reduce the workload of Symbiosis and make it more available to students and seniors.

For example, they plan on making a more comprehensive website for the program, which will reduce the need for individual questions by email.

As of now, you can email or call 647-648-4421 for more information.

Happipad, a real estate rental agency in Kelowna, BC, has a similar approach to intergenerational living. Since Kelowna had the lowest rental vacancy rate in Canada in 2017, their iGen program was created, in collaboration with the University of British Columbia, to provide students with affordable housing by finding seniors who will rent out a room in their homes.

Of course, this will also give the seniors social interaction and companionship, solving both social isolation and the rental shortage in the process.

Since intergenerational living has not been as popular in Canada as it has in other countries, Happipad plans to employ a comprehensive quality control system to ensure the pairings are beneficial for both parties.

If a placement becomes untenable, the student is relocated to a more suitable placement.

In North Bay, Canadore College began construction of a seniors' living facility in 2019 that will feature intergenerational living opportunities for students and seniors.

This seniors' living facility is intended to have 176 beds and will also provide assisted living, respite care, transitional beds and affordable housing.

There will be a pharmacy on-site and a healthcare provider offering innovative approaches to nursing, personal care, home making, companion services, accompanied visits and caregiver relief.

The facility will be the second phase of Canadore’s educational complex called The Village, which combines community and senior care with teaching, experiential skills training, and applied research.

The Village focuses on blending together Indigenous, Eastern and Western healing and wellness practices, and offers a traditional ceremonial space.

Canadore takes a holistic approach to care, endeavouring to address mind, body, and spirit. With intergenerational living to promote mental health, campus facilities and programs for physical wellness, and an Indigenous community centre to allow spiritual health to flourish, The Village appears to meet these goals.

Intergenerational housing models have the potential to greatly benefit society as a whole, according to an article in the BC Medical Journal.

Seniors living in these models have the opportunity to develop social networks they would otherwise miss out on, which helps to solve the problem of social isolation. Students get affordable housing through incentives as well as benefits to their mental health. Caregiver burnout is reduced because of the added support network for seniors.

The largest challenge for intergenerational housing programs appears to be in getting participants, as the concept is not as widespread as it once was. However, the results are quite powerful and will prompt more exploration in the future.

In any case, this is one solution to the loneliness experienced by many elderly in Canada as well as a solution to the difficulties faced by post-secondary students when they search for affordable housing.