Millennials are coping with the rising costs of higher education by enrolling in a form of bartered lodging offered by some retirement communities. Students can trade the pleasure of their company or skills like music performance in exchange for free housing, in a move that has been shown to improve the well-being of retired residents.

Studies support the idea, showing that the increased social contact can help fight dementia as well as modulate blood pressure. According to the National Institute on Ageing, “Positive indicators of social well-being may be associated with lower levels of interleukin-6 in otherwise healthy people. Interleukin-6 is an inflammatory factor implicated in age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and some forms of cancer.”

Staff members at participating retirement communities note an increased level of activity among their elderly residents, something that can be difficult to achieve. According to one resident at the Judson Manor retirement home in Cleveland, Ohio, “The people here light up when the young people walk through the lobby. It’s really quite lovely.”

Programs like the one at Judson typically require that the students perform a set amount of volunteering at the home. The Judson program started in 2010 after staff members learned of a housing shortage at the Cleveland Institute of Music. In light of the program’s success, the home has decided to expand the opportunity to two other schools in the region.

The phenomenon echoes the recent trend of adults in their 20s and 30s moving back home with parents. It is also related to the increased interest in nearby educational facilities by residents at retirement communities. Retirees are able to pursue their interests in live performances, courses at the university and also use college fitness facilities. The practice extends beyond the U.S., with similar programs in the Netherlands and France.

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