Urban Vitality Research Programme and Het Amstelhuis Living Lab

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The dismal statistics indicates that almost half of Amsterdam adults feel lonely. The data collected by the municipal heath service GGD states that it comes down to 300 thousand lonely people in the Dutch capital, 80 thousand of whom feel extremely lonely. The tendency has stricken the elderly population as well. To alleviate the problem, the Urban Vitality Programme, one of the Research programmes of Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) has joined forces with Het AMSTELhuis, a residential facility for senior citizens, and launched ‘The AMSTELhuis’ Living Lab project in 2015. The project made social inclusion of elderly people, along with their activities and nutrition, a cornerstone of the Urban Vitality Programme and het Amstelhuis’ cooperative efforts.

Amsterdam: combatting loneliness and becoming an age-friendly city

Amsterdam is perceived to be one of the most inspiring and inclusive cities in Europe. Every year, it welcomes more and more expats from all over the world. Yet, the ever-rising population does not promote better socialization. Loneliness is getting recognized as a public health threat, and the city invests 1 million euros per year for tackling the issue of loneliness among its citizens. Apart from that, in 2015, Amsterdam joined the WHO Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities to advance the well-being of elderly citizens through a number of programmes. With the AMSTELhuis project as a part of the Urban Vitality Programme, AUAS shares, a common ambition to organize the space for elderly citizens so that they can live an independent life that is meaningful and enriched with a variety of informal social activities.

Urban Vitality: improving senior citizens’ well-being  

The activities carried out in the AMSTELhuis within the Urban Vitality research programme are majorly framed into students’ projects. The ongoing projects and research programmes are centred around three main themes: vitality, healthy nutrition and social inclusion. 

  • Exercise Therapy students give weekly lessons in fall prevention. Prior that, a study on fall prediction was performed. The purpose of both activities is to predict falls, what will allow for a quicker action of the support staff in the future and make elderly people feel more confident in terms of their postural stability.
  • Healthy nutrition for the seniors is a frequent subject in research and advice. As part of the AUAS Food Lab, Nutrition & Dietetics students carry out research on the subject as well. Together with the residents’ club of the Amstelhuis, the Food Lab organises tasting events when residents can try sustainable vegetarian food. What is more, the Food Lab runs a project on marketing the Amstelhuis restaurant and making it more attractive for elderly people living in the neighbourhood. 
  • For supporting Amstelhuis residents’ well-being, it is important they have a solid social network of co-residents, family and friends. The research done by Occupational Therapy students shows that some new residents find it difficult to connect with others when moving into the Amstelhuis. Students and researchers are trying to see what assistance is needed to help and strengthen the social network of new residents upon their arrival and further on.

The projects are being carried out with the support from the AMSTELhuis administration and supervised by the university researchers who guide and collaborate with their students in interdisciplinary teams.

Living Lab: why a success?

Efficient collaboration of the AUAS and the AMSTELhuis is ensured by several factors. First, both vision and ambition are shared and supported by the management, employees of the AMSTELhuis along with the researchers and students from AUAS. All involved parties have a common understanding that the AMSTELhuis residents, their comfort and safety are of primary concern. As confided by Ellen Budde, senior project manager of the AMSTELhuis Living Lab, a significantly important component of the programme success is related to the willingness to learn together and speak to one another respecting each other’s views, as well as to practice new behaviour expressed by all involved stakeholders, including residents themselves, their families, carers, etc. Undoubtfully, clear leadership and steering mechanisms bring more structure to the management processes. And the crowning element of the programme success is, undeniably, the applicability of the research results that improve the well-being of the AMSTELhuis residents.

Photo by Matthias Zomer from Pexels