Sharing a flat at the age of 90, the benefits of inter-generational coexistence health and wellness

Conchita Satorres was looking for a roommate in Barcelona. This is always a complicated process, but even more so when you’re 91 and your last roommate was your husband. When Conchita became a widow, she began to withdraw into herself. And in his apartment. “I hardly ever went out,” he admits. “Once in a while, when he had Edith (his carer), he went on the road with her. But then I was alone, on weekends or in the afternoon.” They thought sharing a flat might be a way to break that dynamic. Instead of advertising in Idealista, Conchita went to the Roure Foundation, a Catalan NGO specialized for older people. He told them he was signing up for the intergenerational coexistence program. After several interviews with the psychologist, a Mexican girl appeared at his door with some suitcases. Her name was Carla Argentina and her age was 30 years. At first they greeted each other politely and it felt awkward, they were still two strangers. But as months passed, his confidence increased. After three years, both say that they are not roommates but friends. Family.

In recent years, various such intergenerational coexistence programs have become popular in Europe, which are based on the imposition of two very different problems on each other. On the one hand, the difficulty of access to housing and the precarity of youth. On the other hand, the unwanted loneliness of older people. At the intersection of these realities, thousands of people live together in Spain: they may not share cultural references or generational codes, but they share a life and an apartment.

And this is a positive thing. Intergenerational friendship has not been widely studied from a psychology and health perspective, but in recent years, various studies have pointed to its bidirectional benefits. A 2019 meta-analysis stated that intergenerational programs significantly reduced ageism among youth participants. Another, from 2021, explained that older adults experience a decrease in the number of falls and weakness and an increase in strength and balance. A recent meta-analysis also found lower rates of depression among participants.

In fact, these programs have not invented anything new. “This is version 2.0 of the old extended family, in which grandparents and grandchildren lived under the same roof,” explains Andrés Rueda, social gerontologist and director of ASCAD. And the extended family, he explains, is a form of the anthropological evolution of the tribe, as a group of people living together. “The evolution toward the nuclear family broke down this type of tribal and extended family co-existence, especially in cities or large population centres. But genetically we are programmed for intergenerational coexistence in a natural way.

But beyond our genes, the reality is different. According to the National Institute of Statistics, more than five million people were expected to live alone at home in 2022. This figure has increased by approximately 20% over the past 10 years, and is predicted to continue increasing at an even higher rate. There is no family model or household type that is so strongly developed. In an increasingly individualistic and aging society, unwanted loneliness will be one of the major problems of the future. And this has disastrous consequences.

A recent study in the journal bmc medicine It was claimed that older people who do not receive visits are 39% more likely to die than those who do not. Human interactions keep them active and promote healthy habits. Programs like the Rauer Foundation work to curb this trend. “We are social creatures by nature and this includes the coexistence of younger people with older people,” Rueda explains. “But all this requires a certain format, certain conditions.”

In the case of Carla and Conchita the conditions were clear. The young woman will not pay the rent and in return will keep the old woman with her for at least two hours a day. Three years later, affection and co-existence have eroded the rigidity of that contract. “Carla has been a blessing,” says Conchita. “Because I can go out with her, she takes me out to sunbathe, eat, sometimes we go shopping… she really loves me. I like the clothes, the jackets and I recommend them.” Coexistence between them is the same as in any home. At first there were differences of opinion because of what was shown on television. Conchita always puts on TV3, “especially the news, which is sacred in this house,” says Carla. She did not understand Catalan and did not care about Spanish politics. He liked home renovation shows or American series more. But Carla learned Catalan after watching the news. From time to time in the middle of a speech delivered with a Mexican accent there comes up quietly an expression or turn of phrase that commands attention. Conchita also started becoming fond of some of the series that her new roommate liked. Watching TV became a shared pastime. Something similar happened in the kitchen, where one taught the other to prepare the typical dishes of their country.

Carla and Conchita, friends and roommates.albert garcia

Carla admits that she became interested in the program because of her financial situation, but later found a friend in Conchita. Their case is paradigmatic, Rueda explains: “Coexistence initially arises out of convenience or mutual interests. Then, from there, friction and mutual knowledge create affection that leads to a coexistence that goes beyond the initial, very physical nature.

Intergenerational coexistence programs in Spain began to develop more than 25 years ago and have multiplied from large cities to medium-sized cities. Currently, there are 16 programs spread across the region. One of the first was Convive, an initiative that has been active since 1995 and through which more than 1,800 cases have been reported. Psychologist Marcos Böcker is responsible. “In a society with more uncertain relationships, there is a need for practices that encourage encounters and relationships between people of different generations,” he explained in an email exchange. “In the face of loneliness and fragmented social relations, intergenerational experiences can contribute to creating a sense of belonging, recognition of the social value of all people, and mutual enrichment in general,” he explains. “And without active promotion, it will hardly be found naturally.”

At first, these programs were considered charity, placing the elderly in a position of inferiority, but experience has shown that this type of coexistence is enriching for everyone involved. “I try to contribute to Conchita, but she also contributes to me,” explains Carla, who claims she has learned not only about history and cooking, but how to live in a different way. Is. To take things easy and enjoy the peace of being at home.

Over the years, he has also become aware of some societal prejudices regarding the elderly, ageist dynamics of which he was not fully aware. “We have this idea that older people are infantilized and disabled,” he explains. “There’s a tendency to say, ‘They’re like children.’ And no. They are adults with their own personalities and thoughts, even if they are physically disabled. Many older people reach 90 with their cognitive abilities intact. We forget everything we could have learned from them. Are.”

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