Our House: The Benefits of Intergenerational Housing

“As a nurse, I never felt that nursing homes or dementia units provided what was needed for people to flourish,” said Karin Krause, ‘79 RN, a University of Wisconsin–Madison School of Nursing alumna and founder and Executive Director of Hope and a Future, a nonprofit organization.

“We created facilities that keep people safe, so they survive, but they don’t really thrive,” she said. “And just because you have dementia or physical frailty does not mean that you don’t want to continue to grow.”

Krause was speaking at “Intergenerational Housing: Novel Definitions of Home and Family,” a discussion organized as part of an interior design studio where UW–Madison School of Human Ecology Interior Architecture students are designing an intergenerational community, led by Professors Jung-hye Shin, PhD and Uchita Vaid, PhD.

The Hope and a Future house

At Hope and a Future, “we’re looking to help people flourish,” said Krause. “When you bring generations together, children have people who have time to look at them, listen to them, play with them, and enjoy them. Seniors have a purpose in mentoring parents and children.”

Intergenerational programs have been shown to benefit people across the lifespan. Children demonstrate more interactive and cooperative play, increased empathy and mood management, and improved academic performance. Adults—including parents of young children and caregivers of older relatives—experience better family communication, less worry and social isolation, and greater access to respite care. Older adults benefit from increased strength and balance, decreased social isolation, and improved quality of life. All ages become more accepting of differences and feel more connected to others.

Krause has seen the benefits of intergenerational living firsthand.

“I decided I’m going to bring folks into my house instead of working in an institution,” she explained. “When I brought seniors in,” to live with Krause and her children, “they started functioning at a higher level, communicating at a higher level.”

Since then, Hope and a Future has grown and moved to a renovated farmhouse and accessible addition on 5.5 acres in west Madison. The site brings together a four-bed adult family home with live-in staff, including Krause, nursing assistants, therapists, and students. Plans include building independent housing for older adults and affordable housing for young families. The organization also wants to add space for community gatherings, childcare, and adult day center services.

“This house was so perfect,” said Krause. “There are two porches and a deck. All the windows bring the outside in. There’s a cozy feeling to the entryways.”

When they built the addition, they created what Krause calls “a tangle” of a walkway connecting rooms in the original house and new space.

Part of the “tangle” or circle walk

“This tangle is excellent for people who develop dementia,” said Krause. “Spaces where people can wander without going outdoors are very important. There are stages, particularly with Alzheimer’s disease, where people need to wander. They feel they need to go someplace but they don’t know where. You’ll see people walking around our house once in a while, with a hat on and a coat over their shoulder and a bag. They’re happy just walking.”

In Krause’s experience, “People can stay in independent housing with a fair degree of dementia.”

Shared meals, music nights, and sunny spaces of different sizes all foster connections among the people who live in the house. Hope and a Future also engages the wider community.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, they organized volunteer days. “We’d have 50 people sign up and 200 people show up,” said Krause. “People of all ages, grandparents and little kids. We weren’t even sure how people found out.”

Family members of residents enjoy visiting, even after their loved ones pass away.

“We started having residents ask if their ashes could stay on site, because this had become their best home,” said Krause.

When they created a memory garden for the ashes of previous residents, family members saw “a reason to keep coming,” said Krause. “They volunteer to take care of that space.”

“The sense of community that’s developed surpassed what I hoped for,” she said.

–Diane Farsetta; photos from Karin Krause