A nursing home in China is trying something new with its elder care: Encouraging young people to live among its aging residents.
Last summer, a dozen people in their 20s moved into the privately run Sunshine Home in the provincial capital Hangzhou.
In exchange for very low rent, they must spend at least 20 hours a month with the older residents.
“What the elderly fear most is loneliness,” said Wang Kai, director of Sunshine Home’s social worker department. “They want someone to talk with.”
One of the young people, Situ Keren, 26, said she has found the older residents simply like having company.
“In most cases, they just want me to be in their room while they are doing their own thing,” she said, adding that her rent in the nursing home is one-fifth of what she used to pay for an apartment.
She wishes her grandmother, who lives in a nursing home elsewhere, could enjoy the same benefit.
“She feels lonely there,” she said. “Some grandmas here feel the same. I want to keep them company, just like how I wish someone would do the same for my grandma back home.”
Liu Cuiyu, 80, who lives at Sunshine Home, takes advantage of the younger residents’ knowledge and ease with technology and the latest gadgets.
“They call me Grandma Liu and teach me how to use smartphones and my iPad so I can video-call my grandchildren,” she said.
The project isn’t for everyone. Of eight people who joined the program at its start in December, six moved out within six months.
Some got married, and some bought houses, but others lost interest or did not have enough time, Wang said. Sunshine Home is far from shopping malls and movie theaters, and not even a restaurant is nearby.
Nor are all the residents enthusiastic. Retired nurse Huang Jin, 67, said she likes classes such as calligraphy the young people teach, but that’s about it.
“I’m not interested in chatting with them,” she said. “I don’t want to burden other people with my emotions.”
In the United States, graduate students live rent-free in Judson Manor, a retirement home in Cleveland, in exchange for performing for residents and joining in at mealtime.
In Lebanon, Ohio, Otterbein SeniorLife is developing an intergenerational community around its senior housing that will include market-rate single-family homes, apartments, restaurants, schools and an arts center.
A Boston-area company called Nesterly offers what it calls intergenerational homesharing—linking up young people with seniors with rooms to spare.
Such intergenerational living should help tackle loneliness that can plague seniors.
More than two out of five older adults report feeling lonely, according to one university study.