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Intergenerational Living and Its Benefits

What do you think of when you hear the term senior housing? Most people think of it as housing that caters to the specific needs of seniors, typically by moving seniors towards age-specific communities, and away from younger generations.

This makes a certain amount of sense. Seniors often do have specific needs and preferences. Many seniors rise early, dine early, and go to bed early. They don’t want to be dealing with younger neighbors who are socializing late at night. They may not want to be around the hubbub and sometimes frenetic pace of people who are in the midst of their working lives. And, heck, it’s nice to talk with people whose good old days are the same as yours.

There are pluses and minuses to everything, though, and senior housing is no different. Healthcare professionals who work with seniors are finding that while senior living communities can bring a lot of positive benefits to seniors, there are drawbacks to living in a generationally-sorted environment. One of the downsides is that interaction with younger people is often very limited. This fact can have implications in terms of seniors’ health and well-being. Because of this, people are giving more consideration to intergenerational living options.

The term intergenerational living is a bit of a catch-all phrase. It means different things to different people and can indicate any number of housing situations. We’re sure be hearing a lot more on the subject as our population ages and housing shortages increase.

Living with Family in a Multi-generational Household

The number of people living in multi-generational family situations is the highest it’s been since the 1950’s. According to the Pew Research Center, one in five Americans lives in a multi-generational household, a growth of 8% from 1980.

There are a number of forces that have contributed to this change—the 2008-2009 recession, housing shortages, and changing cultural demographics are a few. Adults with young children often return to their parents’ homes to save on housing costs. In other situations, seniors find that managing and paying for their own housing becomes untenable and move in with their adult children.

In the best scenarios, where family relationships are emotionally healthy, intergenerational living offers benefits to everyone. For example, seniors can sometimes take on childcare duties for harried parents. Many grandparents feel that having an active role in caring for their grandchildren keeps them healthier and more active.

Children benefit, too. Grandparents have a lifetime of learning to pass on to children. Children often enjoy having someone else to play with them when their parents are busy. There’s even some indication that children who have regular contact with seniors have more advanced social and emotional skills than those who don’t.

Planned Intergenerational Communities

Well-planned intergenerational living environments communities aren’t all that common….yet. There are multiple health, cultural, and economic benefits to such communities, though, so we can expect to see more of them in the coming years. Planned intergenerational communities can take many forms.

Some intergenerational communities have senior housing and daycare facilities housed in the same complex. Programming is established to ensure intergenerational interaction. In other communities, planners build upon senior housing already in place, adding restaurants, coffee shops, and retail stores in addition to housing that attracts a younger population.

Some communities offer free or low-cost housing to young people in exchange for offering various community activities. In Cleveland, Ohio, the Judson Manor retirement home provides seniors and college students a unique opportunity to interact with one another. For elders, having sustained social interaction, especially with younger people, is believed to have numerous emotional and physical benefits including reduced levels of depression and lower levels of systemic inflammation.

In response to housing shortages at area universities such as the Cleveland Institute of Music and Case Western Reserve University, Judson Manor offers free housing to select college students. In exchange for housing, students assume the role of artists-in-residence. They give concerts and teach classes to residents. Sometimes, they just hang out with residents, cook together, or offer to do small errands.

Aging in place by sharing housing with students/young adults

Many empty-nesters are getting creative when it comes to their housing choices. Instead of down-sizing and moving to a smaller home, they are opening up their homes to the next generation. Retirees who have an extra bedroom or two are offering college students and young twenty-somethings affordable housing. Given that there are an estimated three million unoccupied rooms in the U.S. that could be rented out to younger people, that amounts to enormous untapped potential for intergenerational living that benefits everyone.

The Intergenerational Homeshare Pilot program in Boston pairs graduate students with empty-nesters who have a room available to rent. Through the program, students are able to save thousands in housing costs. Older homeowners reap benefits such as having help with home maintenance, increased social interaction, and decreased loneliness. Additionally, hosts report a feeling of pride in having something to offer students to help them achieve their goals. Participants in the program overwhelmingly reported positive experiences and would recommend the program to others.

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