Man is a social animal which is one of the unique characteristics that differentiate him from other classes of animals. No matter what our age, caste or situation, we are always in need of others to converse with, spend time and learn some things.
Many young students going to universities especially if they are away from their families struggle to get cheaper accommodation. A Dutch nursing home, Residential and Care Center Humanitas in the eastern part of the Netherlands, provides free accommodation for students in exchange for 30 hours of volunteer work per month.
In 2012, the Dutch government decided to cut off funding for citizens over 80 years who weren’t in dire need. However, this affected the elderly as they couldn’t bear the costs of the long-term care communities.
“That’s when I thought of a group of other people – in this case, students – that also don’t have much money,” says Gea Sijpkes, director and CEO at Humanitas.
Students interact with residents who are in their eighties and nineties. Spending time with the elderly also includes teaching them new skills such as how to use social media and even graffiti art. In turn, spending time connects the young people with the older generation. Since this program started, around 250 active volunteers have reached over 500 elderly residents, half of whom have dementia.
There are many benefits of this project. Many students can share their passions with the elderly such as reading literature or music. Most especially for dementia patients, recitation of poems and playing of musical instruments jogs their memories.
Another benefit is less stress on the staff. The number of elderly people in nursing homes can be overwhelming for the staff as they need regular attention. However, with additional assistance from the younger generation, the staff can be relieved and occasionally check on the patients to make sure everything is in order.
Spending time with the elderly can be educational for the younger generation as well. The older a person gets, the more he has experience of life. The seniors can share their experiences and give advice on different aspects to the students who may not get such knowledge elsewhere. Usually the young prefer to associate with their age groups who are inexperienced in many things. Being with the elderly makes them more mature and understanding of life.
Many families leave the seniors in nursing homes because they don’t have time to take care for them. This leaves the older generation in loneliness and a restricted environment. With the cooperation of the younger generation, all the different age groups are benefitted. Universities should encourage this type of volunteering work with students getting cheaper or free accommodation.
Garima Nabh is the founder of New Age Magazine.