British Columbia

'Completely changed the way I look at aging': University students move into senior care home

University student Zach Fleck has a better idea of what getting old looks like than most college kids.

The experience is part of a research project out of UNBC about inter-generational living

Zach Fleck spends hours every week with the seniors living at Gateway Lodge. (Submitted by the University of Northern British Columbia)

University student Zach Fleck has a better idea of what getting old looks like than most college kids.

He spent the semester living at Gateway Lodge, an assisted living facility for seniors in Prince George, B.C., and was surprised at some of the lessons he learned.

"I thought it would just be an interesting conversation starter to meet someone new and say, 'yeah, I actually live in a care home,'" said Fleck, 27.  

The more altruistic motivation behind his move: he wanted to learn about living in a care home to be able to share the experience with his grandparents.

"My grandparents are getting up to the age where they're struggling with some physical and other issues," Fleck told CBC's Daybreak North.

"They could be transitioning into an assisted assisted care situation and I saw this as a way to learn about what that looks like so I could share that information with them."

Living in a care home was much more "easy-going" than he originally imagined. He attended classes as normal and would spend hours every week hanging out with the residents, playing cards and listening to their stories.

"It's completely changed the way I look at aging," Fleck said. "I'm going be a lot more proactive about he sort of the situation that I want to be in [as I age]."

Zach Fleck, left, was one of two students living at the care facility. The experience was part of a research project, co-led by Shannon Freeman, right. ( Andrew Kurjata/CBC)

Intergenerational living benefits

Fleck is one of the University of Northern British Columbia students who moved into the care home as part of a research project about intergenerational living, conducted by two UNBC professors in partnership with Northern Health. 

"There's not a lot there that has measurable benefits of whether these projects actually work," said Shannon Freeman, assistant professor of nursing at UNBC.

She's leading the research with a colleague, Dawn Hemingway.

"We undertook this project to have some research components and evaluation components to see really what are the benefits for the students, for the seniors and for the long-term assisted living facility," she said.

According to Fleck, a lot of focus is on seniors and loneliness — but this project captured another aspect of that.

"Older adults can become socially isolated living in situations like these," he agreed.

"But I think going to university and being a student can actually be kind of a lonely situation sometimes, too. It gives both parties the opportunity to have a social outlet."

Students from the University of Northern British Columbia spent the past semester living in a senior's home. Zack Fleck was one of them, and he joins professor Shannon Freeman to discuss the project with Daybreak North guest host Wil Fundal. 9:06

With files from Daybreak North

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