Old people's home has cocktail bar, paddling pool and students live there

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Happy people are dipping their toes in a pool, surrounded by palm trees with a cocktail bar nearby. You would be forgiven for thinking this was a holiday resort.

Instead Humanitas Deventer, in the Netherlands, is an old people’s home.

But the decor – the trees are
inflatable, the pool is a paddling variety – isn’t the only unusual thing about Humanitas. As well as being home to 160 people over the age of 85, six students also reside with the elderly.

Amid crises in UK social care and housing, this concept is one that could offer a way forward for British providers.

The young people are able to live in the retirement home rent-free, in exchange for just 30 hours of their time each month – which they spend “hanging out” with their older companions. And, rather than being volunteers or workers, the students are simply referred to as “neighbours”.

To Tienergo (87) with resident student Anneloes Olthof (27)

 

“Welcome to Humanitas, Sunny Beach,” CEO Gea Sijpkes laughs as she explains that the decision behind the tropical theme is to keep the residents happy in the recent 30C heat.

Together, the young and old go to the shops, chat over a home-cooked meal or even enjoy a tandem bike ride. And, naturally, they become firm friends – as we quickly see during our stay there.

“Ans!” a young girl, named Anneloes, yells as she runs and clasps her arms around the 85-year-old, who is peacefully reading her book in the sunshine.

The greeting is warmly received. “We always cuddle,” smiles Ans. “It feels just like she’s my grandchild.”

Humanitas in Holland for the over 85s where students live rent free in return for providing company to the elderly residents

 

Ans started living in Humanitas three years ago, after she moved into a room with her sick husband, Bernard.

Bernard died shortly after and Ans was left alone after 62 years of marriage. However, she says that living with young people has helped her cope.

Sharing a bag of sweets with ­Anneloes, 27, Ans says: “Young people lift us up. I’m not ­depressed but I definitely feel better when they’re around. It gives me better health and a lot of energy.

“Young people and old people never usually get the chance to meet.

“But when we do, it takes just five minutes before we realise how similar we are. Our relationship is very easy.

“Students should be available for everybody over the age of 60 – we’re proof that the system really works.”

And her friend Harry ter Braak, 91, agrees. “I’ve been here five years and it’s very good,” he says. “I moved here because my wife had died. So I found it difficult to adjust but now I’d never want to live anywhere else.”

And the former musician explains that being around the students helps keep him young. “My body may be 91 but my head is 18,” he says, playfully pulling faces at Ans. “I believe that I wouldn’t have a good life if I didn’t live here.”

Humanitas Deventer – about 70 miles east of Amsterdam – was founded in 1965, at a time when everybody over the age of 65 in the country was eligible for a free space in a retirement home. Due to budget cuts, the minimum age was increased to 80 and in 2012, 85.

Humanitas in Holland

 

It was at this point that CEO Gea discovered that although the residents were receiving excellent care they were bored and lonely, while the staff were overworked and demotivated.

So she invited young people to live on the premises while they studied.

And Anneloes Olthof, who has lived at the centre for four years, says the system benefits both the young and old.

The social care student says: “Most of my friends live alone or with another student. But it’s very expensive – it can cost around £625 a month to rent an apartment in Deventer and in Amsterdam even more.

“The elderly people are so kind and sweet. They hug you all the time and are just thankful for you being there.

The old people’s home is like no other

 

“My favourite thing is to take them somewhere nice with me.” But with all of the residents being over 85, Anneloes admits that she’s often left with the pain of losing a neighbour.

She says: “Not everybody gets to live until they are 90 or 100, so people die.

“It’s incredibly difficult and sad because these are your friends. I miss a lot of the residents here but I just want to help them enjoy the last days of their lives. And sometimes we get feedback from their families, who say that they benefitted a lot from us.”

And Anneloes says that the feeling is mutual. “I get a lot of love from the elderly people. And they teach me
practical things too – like how to wash my clothes or give me good advice.”

Looking round her spacious room – complete with kitchen and ensuite – it’s easy to see why Anneloes doesn’t plan on leaving any time soon.

Boss Gea Sijpkes helping out during a residents therapy session with a registered therapist

With communal areas on every floor, the students rarely spend time in their bedrooms. Anneloes says: “If I have friends over, then we always go and socialise.

“On special occasions, like my birthday, I also invite the elderly people as well as my family and friends, so we can all celebrate together.” This social spirit is shown throughout Humanitas Deventer, with a group of ladies playing shuffle board in the kitchen and dementia patients enjoying a sing-along by the piano.

Among the more traditional activities, there are also some surprises in the social areas – such as a football table and dedicated beer pong desk.

Sores Dunman, 29, who studied Communications, has been living at Humanitas Deventer for three years.

He says: “It’s not a normal student lifestyle but we can still party and do whatever we want. A lot of the things that I normally do, I also do with the elderly here. For example, I watch the Champions League football games with the elderly people who live on my corridor.

Resident Harry ter Braak

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“When the Dutch national team plays, it can get very rowdy. And when we play beer pong or throw parties, we always invite the elderly. They enjoy it and chug beers as well as any of the students. They were quite skilled at beer pong.”

Now, Humanitas is keen to spread the word of their unique social care model. And two other places in the Netherlands, have already followed suit.

Alongside this, Humanitas also held a conference in Paris in May and gave a talk in Britain in July.

Sores says: “The concept needs more exposure, so other homes can see the great effects of letting students live with the elderly and maybe start doing something similar themselves.”

 



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