Dutch retirement homes offer frat house alternative

By Nicolas Delaunay, AFP

DEVENTER, Netherlands–Ninety-two-year-old Johanna beams at the 20-year-old stepping into her room �X not a visiting grandson, but rather a housemate at her retirement home. Town planning student Jurrien is one of six who have chosen to live in the yellow-brick home in Deventer in the eastern Netherlands as part of a unique project that benefits everyone. The university students pay no rent and in exchange spend at least 30 hours a month with some of the 160 elderly who live here, doing the things professional staff cannot always do �X such as just hanging out. ��They go see the pensioners for a chat, they play games, go with them to the shopping mall, (and) do shopping for those who can’t,�� says activity coordinator Arjen Meihuizen. Gea Sijpkes, the head of the Humanitas retirement home, said: ��It’s important not to isolate the elderly from the outside world.�� ��When you’re 96 years old with a knee problem, well, the knee isn’t going to get any better, the doctors can’t do much,�� Sijpkes said. ��But what we can do is create an environment where you forget about the painful knee.�� Preventing care ‘ghettoes’

While retirement homes in many European countries lack enough rooms for an aging population, budget cuts by the Dutch government have made it increasingly difficult to get a subsidized place, leaving some with more rooms than they can fill. The sharing idea has resonated in a country where many people do volunteer work, and other retirement homes are coming up with their own variations on the theme. So-called ��intergenerational�� projects are also springing up elsewhere in Europe, but usually not within retirement homes because of the shortage of rooms. In some schemes, the elderly rent out a room in their own house or apartment, in others, housing projects are built specifically to house the young with the elderly.