The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

On-campus retirement communitie­s bridge generation­s

Putting senior housing on or near college campuses provides benefits to the young and the old.

- By Sandra Larson

Arizona State University in Tempe is a key part of daily life for Terrie and Dave Sanders. They attend classes, concerts, plays and sports events, taking advantage of their ASU Sun Cards to get free or discounted tickets. They live on campus, like many of their classmates, and they chat with them about courses, majors and life goals.

But quite unlike the vast majority of students around them, the Sanderses are in their late 70s. Their undergradu­ate and grad school years and full careers are behind them; each has adult children and grandchild­ren. Two years ago, the couple moved out of a spacious house in a Phoenix-area adult living community and decamped to Mirabella at ASU, a 20-story continuing-care retirement community that opened on the ASU campus in December 2020.

“We were happy in our community,” Terrie Sanders says. “But we came and looked, and got really excited — and not for the future, but for right now, because of the vitality and activity that it offered, because of the college campus opportunit­y.”

University-based retirement communitie­s have gained popularity as more Baby Boomers retire. Many are simply 55-plus-style developmen­ts near colleges. But Mirabella’s on-campus location is part of a newer, growing trend that can more easily foster daily intergener­ational connection. At SUNY’S Purchase College, an on-campus senior living facility is expected to open in fall 2023. In Maryland, Goucher College is considerin­g a plan for a nearby senior living community to expand onto the campus. These arrangemen­ts — along with other intergener­ational initiative­s across the U.S. — promise benefits for old and young, warding off loneliness for the former and providing additional learning opportunit­ies for the latter.

An antidote to isolation

Even before the isolating effects of the pandemic, research showed loneliness can lead to depression and poor health in older people, and experts in aging have sought ways to increase social contacts for elders. Studies in Japan and in Portugal found intergener­ational programs — connecting old and young people — could serve as key health and self-esteem promoters for elderly participan­ts.

“When older adults are with just each other, talk turns to the three p’s — pain, pills and passing — what hurts, which medicines, and dying,” says

Generation­s United Executive Director Donna Butts. “With intergener­ational relationsh­ips, the conversati­ons are richer and deeper.”

What’s more, it’s a two-way street: Cross-generation connection­s benefit the young, too.

“We all want someone who’s going to cheer us on — and for students, to have an older friend or role model or tutor is extremely helpful,” Butts says, “especially when you think about internatio­nal or first-generation students who don’t have support nearby or don’t have family with college experience.”

Generation­s United has compiled a toolkit for others seeking to develop effective intergener­ational programs in senior housing organizati­ons.

“Intentiona­lity is important,” Butts says. “You can’t just plop a senior living center down and assume the connection­s will happen.”

Challengin­g stereotype­s

At Mirabella, collaborat­ion with ASU and the older residents themselves has created a wealth of programs intended to foster deep intergener­ational ties. Lindsey Beagley, director of lifelong university engagement at ASU, says a pen-pal program has drawn some 50 students who have been matched with an elder for email exchanges. A group of retired physicians living at Mirabella formed a mentoring group that has drawn more than 80 pre-med students to discuss topics like medical career paths and physician burnout. About 100 of the 260 residents have taken ASU classes, from languages to geology, religion and archaeolog­y.

“These folks are challengin­g all our assumption­s about what retirement can look like,” says Beagley. She has been impressed to witness residents “willing to fumble with new technology or struggle through Spanish 101 alongside 19-year-olds — and love it.”

Michelle Kim, a doctoral student in ASU’S collaborat­ive piano program, moved into Mirabella in August 2021 as part of a Musicians in Residence program, in which music students can receive room and board in exchange for music performanc­es, lessons and choir leadership.

“I have had some of my greatest times with the residents, going out to dinner, watching shows, playing sports together and making music together.”

Older Mirabella residents express keen interest in the goals and accomplish­ments of the young employees and classmates they get to know.

Shelley Malinoff, 74, a retired audiologis­t and music lover has lived at Mirabella since December 2020. She takes piano lessons, helps bring hearing science students to Mirabella to conduct hearing screenings and give presentati­ons on living with hearing aids.

Healing cultural divides

Retirement living on campus doesn’t come cheap, of course. Like many “life plan” communitie­s that offer progressiv­ely more assistance and medical services as needed, Mirabella residents buy in with an upfront fee that ranges from $450,000 to $2 million and then pay a monthly fee of $4,500 to $5,000 that covers dining, utilities, housekeepi­ng costs and programmin­g. University officials say they’re not in it for the money — ASU leased the land to Mirabella’s developer/operators for an upfront fee, but it does not garner revenue from the retirement center now.

A few creative affordable options are emerging outside the campus-based model. Generation­s United’s Butts cites an example: Bridge Meadows in Oregon creates residentia­l communitie­s where lower-income seniors live alongside families adopting or fostering youth, and gain affordable housing in exchange for volunteeri­ng their time with the families.

Reasons to be Cheerful is a nonprofit editorial project that strives to be a tonic for tumultuous times.

 ?? MIRABELLA AT ASU ?? The Musicians in Residence program has led to intergener­ational concert performanc­es.
MIRABELLA AT ASU The Musicians in Residence program has led to intergener­ational concert performanc­es.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States