I just came across an inspiring article about a retirement community in the Netherlands that has six college students living with residents in a nursing home.
Instead of paying rent, the students spend 30 hours each month helping around the retirement community. Some of the things they help with are computer classes, preparing meals, spending time with the residents, and just being good neighbors.
I think this is a brilliant idea because it’s a win-win-win. There are huge benefits for everyone involved: residents within the community, the staff, and the college students.
Many of those benefits are ones I saw firsthand when I was a volunteer in a nursing home, and later when I worked as a Certified Nursing Assistant.
As a volunteer, I gathered people for events and helped the activities run smoothly. Most of the time that included helping those in wheelchairs navigate the large building, providing assistance with activities, and helping participants get settled for an event or return to their rooms after an activity.
I remember helping out a lot during the holidays especially. I would often either accompany performers and other visitors around the building, or I would bring the audience to them. I also helped with bingo, which was held on a regular basis. During the holidays there were always more prizes, making participants even more excited and competitive.
At the time, these felt like simple tasks. Later when I started as a nursing assistant, I could really see how much volunteers help staff and those they take care of.
When I changed roles, I went from helping a few people to caring for 10 people. I always wanted to spend more time with my residents, as I had when I volunteered, but I rarely had time. Because of the demands of my new role, it was also no longer easy for me to gather people for events. Many times, the best I could do was let people who might be interested know about upcoming events, or give them directions to the event location.
Of course I took the time when I could, and I was also grateful when others took the time. Just talking a few minutes and saying hello could brighten a resident’s day.
One experience really stays with me. It was when a coworker found a passion of one of my new residents. Helen was new to living in a nursing home when she moved in. It took some time for her to adjust to her new life, but even after she had spent some time with us, she rarely talked.
It wasn’t until one of the activity assistants started talking with her that we learned that she loved baseball, particularly our local Milwaukee Brewers/Braves. Once we learned she was such a fan, Activities found her a radio and a donated blanket with a large Milwaukee Brewers logo. We also made arrangements with Dietary so during Brewers’ games we could bring a food tray to Helen’s room so she wouldn’t miss a thing.
Those gestures didn’t take up much time for me or my coworkers, but it was obvious that they really made a big impact for Helen. She started talking more to others and made connections with other residents.
Many of the people I cared for had exciting stories about their careers, family, and travels, and all they needed was someone to listen. Something I didn’t imagine at the time was how much those I cared for liked to listen to my stories too.
I’m sure the students in the Netherlands know plenty about how important that personal exchange is, and how much giving a little time helps. I’m glad that they benefit too, as well as all the busy staff.
Stephanie Wrate is a Program Coordinator for Dementia Care Specialists, making sure that Instructors and participants have everything they need for a smooth training experience.