Bridging the age gap: Students live at senior community

WMU immersion program believed to be first of its kind in United States

clark at keller lake retirement community
Residents of the Clark at Keller Lake Retirement Community in Kentwood. (Aug. 29, 2016)


KENTWOOD, Mich. (WOOD) — Monday was move-in day for Western Michigan University graduate student Collett Chapp and two fellow occupational therapy students — but not into any dorm room.

“This is much nicer than my dorm room,” Chapp said of the residential room at Clark on Keller Lake Retirement Community in Kentwood.

western michigan university, clark on keller lake retirement community
WMU graduate student Collett Chapp moves in to Clark on Keller Lake Retirement Community in Kentwood. (Aug. 29, 2016)

The three grad students are part of an immersion program believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S. They will spend the next 19 months living with and studying a group most of us will be a part of one day: the 65 and older crowd.

“What they love. What they didn’t like so much. What they think about our world right now,” Chapp said.

In turn, their neighbors, like 86-year-old Charlie Lundstrom, a retired Grand Rapids attorney, will study them.

“Sitting here with 80- and 90-year-olds all the time, honestly, I don’t get a perspective of what’s going on,” he said. “I’m sure I’ll learn a lot from these people.”

Music is one example of what Lundstrom wants learn about.

“I want to be involved. I want to know what’s going on. I’m very curious about things,” he said.

He hopes he can turn them on to the music of his generation.

The grad students will observe and collect information on things like the impact of social isolation and loneliness, both problems common for older Americans. They’ll also dissect stereotypes, like the attitudes seniors have toward college-age people, and the attitudes college-age people have toward seniors.

“We can break stereotypes and get to know people through generations and learn how we can connect with people in a way that facilitates understanding and care,” Chapp said.

If you’re curious why the study is so important, take a look in the mirror: we’re not getting any younger.

A U.S. Census Study released in 2014 suggests that by 2050, the population in the U.S. over the age of 65 will have nearly doubled from 43.1 million in 2012 to 83.7 million.

>>PDF: Census study

Through the next year and seven months, the student residents will collect qualitative data and use it to further research with the hope that research improves communications between the age groups.

“I think the elderly population is usually undeserved and overlooked, and so I think any gains that we can make in serving them will be huge,” Chapp said.

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