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After six months in a retirement community, student says life is “refreshing”

Apr 4, 2017

In a unique effort to bridge the generation gap, three Western Michigan University occupational therapy students are more than six months into a 19-month stint living side-by-side with senior citizens at the Clark Retirement Community on Keller Lake.

It’s one of the first research projects of its type in the country.

Stateside first spoke with resident Charlie Lundstrom and WMU graduate student Colette Chapp last September, just after Chapp and two other students moved into Clark at Keller Lake.

Occupational therapy students from Western Michigan University pose with a resident at the Clark Retirement Community on Halloween. Colette Chapp is pictured here as the butterfly.
Credit Courtesy of Clark Retirement Community / Facebook

After six months of cohabitation, the pair returned to explain what life together is like.

“It’s definitely a different atmosphere,” Chapp said. “When I was living in the dorms in undergrad, there was that connectedness – that we were all going through pretty much the same thing. But living at Clark, we’re at such opposite ends of life, which is actually, I think, refreshing.”

She said living with older people brings her a new perspective, as the retirees have experienced “so much more than I have.”

“It helps me remember that one day, I’m not going to be in school anymore and I won’t be working anymore,” she said, “and what will I want left in my life at that point?”

While Lundstrom said he wishes he had more time with the students, (they’re often extremely busy with school and work), he’s “very happy with the way it’s worked out.”

“I’m 87 and I’m a youngster here...” Lundstrom said. "As you’re getting to that age, you have different needs and different desires, but it’s always nice to talk with younger people.”

Chapp said living at Clark has shown her that our “culture of aging” needs to change.

“I think we as a society have a tendency to overlook the senior population just because it’s uncomfortable to realize that people that you admired, that were your role models when you were younger, have started declining and have more needs,” she said. “And I think that’s just uncomfortable, so we don’t like to acknowledge it or deal with it.”

She said she wants to help remove that stigma.

“And prove that these residents that I live with, and the older adult population, have so much to give to society, and they have so much more they can offer us,” she said.

For the full interview, listen above.

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