By Melissa Davidson

Maybe the Dutch have it figured out when it comes to housing solutions for seniors. The concept of multigenerational housing where older people live with college students has proven to be a win-win in the Netherlands.

In a college-sponsored program that was initiated in 2012, elderly residents at Humanitas retirement home allow college students in the small town of Deventer to live rent-free in their own apartments within the facility in exchange for spending at least 30 hours a month with the seniors.

As part of their volunteer agreement, the students spend time teaching older residents new skills, such as how to use social media, email and tablets, or they’ll simply make dinner and watch TV.

Many seniors aren’t necessarily computer-savvy, so learning how technology can benefit them is a way younger generations can help. With apps like Doctor on Demand and NowClinic, senior residents can connect with a healthcare practitioner face-to-face through a mobile device, instead of depending on a ride to the clinic.

Bringing the outside world into the retirement community is a refreshing change for the residents. Research has shown that social interaction with friends leads to less loneliness and mental decline and increases overall health in older adults.

Humanitas’ multigenerational housing concept has led to at least two more nursing homes in the Netherlands opening their doors to college students. Spain and Lyon, France have also started similar programs.

Ireland

A well-established “eco-village” in Cloughjordan, Ireland brings in folks from all over the country and abroad, young and old, families and singles, all working together to create an enriching place to live.

The Cloughjordan Ecovillage welcomed its first residents to the 67-acre site in 2009. There are about 50 custom-built homes with 80 lots remaining to be built out. Many are attracted to the green living and food production aspect, while others join because they’re drawn to the community-oriented nature of the space.

While this style of multi-generational living isn’t for everyone, some retired residents have this to say about it:

“It all happened together, my retirement and my moving to the ecovillage,” says Ina Holland , a retired teacher. “So, it was the community that attracted me mostly. Life in the ecovillage is very pleasant, and members are very friendly and orderly with each other on the whole.”

Another resident, Pa Finucane, said he’s at retiring age but he’s healthy enough to a run a hostel on the property.

“The hostel itself is easy to run because we do it right,” Finucane said. “But what I didn’t realize before coming down here is the sense of community. The community here is really strong and that is an important aspect of what we’re doing here.”

One of the factors that leads to depression in older populations is the exclusion from society, according to Dr Declan Lyons, consultant in old age psychiatry at St. Patrick’s Hospital in Dublin.

A lot of attention has been paid to the high rate of suicide and depression among 18-24 year-olds in Ireland, ranking fourth in the world, but people over the age of 65 are just as vulnerable, Lyons said. One in five adults over 65 suffer from mental illness, and he believes suicide rates in the elderly are under reported.

United States

According to Mental Health America, more than 2 million of the 34 million Americans age 65 and older suffer from some type of depression, especially if associated with a physical health condition. The attitudes or stigmas associated with mental health issues vary not only between individuals but also countries.

In the U.S., Baby Boomers – the generation born between 1946-1964 – make up 25 % – or 78 million – of the total U.S. population of 312 million. Millennials are the largest generation, so finding common ground, literally, between the two generations on the housing front is an awesome solution.

Statistics show that a record of 57 million Americans, or 18.8 percent of the population, lived in multigenerational family households in 2012. Historically, older Americans were the ones most likely to live in multigenerational households, but younger adults are now surpassing them.

Characteristically “community-oriented,” many Boomers have lived in college dorms, which makes them more receptive to living among people with whom they are not related.

Meanwhile, Millennials are open to new ideas and ways of thinking, especially if they can save money on rent as they attend college. If living with others isn’t one’s thing, there are actual tiny-home communities that have been created for all ages and income levels.

Senior housing options like assisted living can be expensive, but extensive in-home help can also rapidly mount in cost, especially at higher levels of care and live-in or 24-hour coverage. You may be able to purchase insurance to offset some of the costs of long-term care.

In the U.S., the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provides some housing options for seniors under a certain income limit, while Medicaid covers the bulk of nursing home care for those with limited income and assets.

The increase in multigenerational housing is largely due to the inability of many people to get on their feet after the recession, according to Washington Post. The increasing longevity of Americans has boosted the demand for homes that accommodate several generations.

Older generations are living longer than ever before and the impact on caregivers, social service agencies and government spending are issues that need to be addressed now.

Bio

Melissa Davidson is a freelance writer with a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Montana. She currently writes about health, wellness, business and social issues. When she’s not hovering over a keyboard, she can be found either napping or exercising with her canine companion, Romeo.

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