What do student housing and quality of life for seniors have in common?

By Rebecca Morris

When most of us think about student housing we think of crowded student dorms, basement suites or shared off-campus housing. For many of us, seniors housing is not the first thing that springs to mind when we think of where university and college students might choose to live. Yet, innovative models which invite music students to live in independent and assisted living homes at free, or subsidized rates are becoming increasingly common. The catch? Students must commit to sharing their musical talents with their senior neighbors.

Programs have been developed in London, Ontario and Cleveland, Ohio with similar programs which focus on other groups of students, like medical students, appearing everywhere–EdmontonLos Angeles and the Netherlands.

While these living arrangements might sound like the start of a buddy comedy, BCCPA CEO Daniel Fontaine says they are just the kind of innovation that the sector needs.

“These models marry two needs, a need to provide students with affordable housing–a considerable challenge in cities such as Vancouver–with the need to increase quality of life for seniors, through intergenerational programing and the integration of the arts into daily living.”

“It is exciting to see these creative approaches emerging, as it is a reminder that seniors care can’t and shouldn’t remain static. There are endless opportunities to bring joy into seniors’ care by simply thinking outside of what has typically been done,” says Fontaine.

Despite skepticism, students speak to enjoying the time they spent living in seniors’ homes.  The seniors also reported benefiting from their intergenerational living situations, both because of the music programming and because students often socialized with the residents by sharing meals, playing games, or simply chatting with them. This helps reduce the risk of isolation, a major challenge for seniors. Likewise, engagement in the arts has been found to generate other positive outcomes for seniors, including building self-confidence and creating a sense of community.

“As BC’s population ages, we will need to look at more opportunities for improving quality of life for seniors, and programs like these are just one example of how the arts can be integrated into seniors’ care,” says Fontaine.

The Ontario government recently committed to creating a fund to support professional arts programming and art therapy for seniors in community settings (such as Seniors Active Living Centres), retirement homes, hospitals, and long-term care homes, as well as build capacity for seniors to engage in arts organizations in their communities.

This month, BCCPA will wrap up the “40 for 40” Concerts in Care program which has brought professional music performances to seniors in long-term care homes and assisted living sites across BC. The concerts are organized by Health Arts Society, and sponsored through a grant from the BC Care Providers Association. The BCCPA’s support of Concerts in Care is part of its commitment to enhance the quality of life for seniors.

Rebecca Morris is the Manager of Public Affairs, BC Care Providers Association.