26 April 2018 • Gideon Wille
‘I want the over 80s as coach’
In the new research group Urban Ageing, two important developments came together: ageing populations and urbanisation. About half of the world’s population now lives in cities and is only going to increase, so this research is very relevant. Head of the research group, Joost van Hoof, explains what he wants to achieve with his research.
“Yet another physical therapist comes along who thinks that you must stay vital. So you get another ball pushed into your hands. But you maybe you have never done any sports in your life, so why should you start now in the nursing home? Why should I care that you are 85 and still drink a lot of beer every day? Surely the important thing is that you feel good and live comfortably without being patronised.” Van Hoof is clear – he finds the emphasis on physical fitness in geriatric care evidence of a limited perspective. He also wants to include the mental health of seniors.
The research emphasises participation by the elderly. It is contact with others that make senior citizens feel at home in their house or town. Contact with family, neighbours and care professionals. “I find social interaction on the street interesting. If you go to Greece, you see lots of elderly men sitting under palm trees chatting. Here in the Netherlands, we sit indoors. How do we get our senior citizens to sit outdoors and chat with each other on warm days?”
And on the subject of neighbourhoods and houses, Van Hoof says, “The emphasis was always on lowered doorsteps and raised toilets. Luckily, this is being pushed into the background. If you look at the direction that the property development world is moving in, housing associations for example, it is about forming communities. How do we bring people in contact with each other? Can there be different types of residential facilities where people from different generations meet each other, form bonds and live together? You can facilitate this with stones and street furniture.”
What will this new research group offer students? “I am working on developing several minors. The Dealing with Dementia minor will get a make-over that will make it more in line with the objectives of the research group. Therefore it will have less of a medical slant and look more at participation without taboos and how you are going to help these people experience a fine old age. I am also developing a minor on building and living development, which will look at new residential and care concepts. This will be a multidisciplinary minor in cooperation with Health, Nutrition and Dietetics, Sport and Architecture. And I would like to develop a graduation class in the neighbourhood.”
In the neighbourhood
Van Hoof believes that students should get out into society. “I want to limit learning inside this building. The students must learn lessons and listen to stories from the elderly in their own homes. They need to see how senior citizens experience the city, what they think quality of life is and how this could be improved or done differently. I had gave a class in Eindhoven that had senior citizens in the classroom. We had individuals over 80 who were coaches during the lessons. They helped the students with all sorts of questions and shared their experiences and stories. I want to do that here too.”
Can’t this research be done at a university? “This is practical, socially relevant research and is typical for a university of applied sciences,” says Van Hoof. “Another advantage of a university of applied sciences above a university is that we have a more diverse student body that matches the diversity of a city such as The Hague. We also have all sorts of disciplines in house such as social work, nursing, architecture and so on. We can make connections between disciplines more easily than universities where technology has its own separate place.”
Van Hoof has just been appointed at The Hague University of Applied Sciences and the research group is still a work in progress, but this does not dampen his enthusiasm. “As far as I know, we are the first in the world to have a research group like this. In my opinion, this shows guts. And I think that The Hague is the best place for this. Giving senior citizens a good place in the city brings administrative challenges. The Hague is the political seat of the Netherlands. All lobbyists and umbrella organisations are here. If you want to use your knowledge, you have to find a way to reach the agendas of these organisations. You are close to the source here.”
Age Friendly Cities
The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Age Friendly Cities model underpins the thinking of the research group. The Hague is the first city in the Netherlands to join the Age Friendly Cities’ network. Age Friendly Cities looks at eight domains where improvements for senior citizens can be made. These are: the building environment, transportation, housing, participation, respect and inclusion, employment, communication, public transportation, and health care.
Joost van Hoof: ‘ Why should I mind that you are 85 and still drink a lot of beer every day?’