Elders and Youth: More Alike Than You Think

Are You a Senior Center Snob?

I was. Throughout my adulthood, when my ignorance of senior centers was total, they conjured never-ending bingo games in my mind, daycare for old people who hadn't the wit about them for anything more challenging.

When I started studying aging, still working and living in New York City then, I made brief visits to a couple of senior centers and to another one while I was living in Maine. Nothing I saw changed my initial impression.

But that was the result of my remarkably superficial survey compounded by falling for the media stereotype (which mostly continues today) of places where elders gather, accepting their assumption that nothing useful or worthwhile is going on there and so neither are the elders within worthy of attention.

Well, shame on me.

In my home now in Lake Oswego, Oregon, I am rectifying that failing and learning a whole lot about the importance of senior centers everywhere.

This first came about because the 50+ Advisory Board to the City Council on which I serve holds its meetings at the senior center, called the Adult Community Center (ACC) here. Soon, I will begin volunteering there in another capacity, but that's a story for another time.

There are many activities from which elders can choose at the ACC some of which are tai chi classes; a newly equipped gym; computer classes, demonstrations, discussion groups and free wifi; a writing group; a crafts group that donates finished creations to non-profits; scheduled sessions for bridge, pinochle, mah jongg and Scrabble. Most of all this is free or involves a small fee – often just a dollar.

There also is a library and a cafe, a hiking group and scheduled excursions to points of interest, sometimes with overnight stays.

From all that, you would not be wrong to conclude that there is a lot of choice for entertainment and education along with opportunities to meet others which, as we discuss on this blog from time to time, can be hard to do when we are no longer in the workforce.

All that is good, but the additional services offered, mostly free, are crucial to the wellbeing and health of elders in the community. Without the center, these services would not be available or certainly not all in one place where they are easy to find and use. There are so many that I will just give you a simple list of some of them:

Blood pressure monitoring
Flu shots
Foot care clinics
Legal assistance
Tax assistance
Medicare/Medicaid help
Rides to doctor appointments
Rides for grocery shopping
Medical equipment loans
Caregiver support
Home visits to assist independent living

Each of these services and others I have not listed are provided by the appropriate, certified professional.

In addition, three days a week, a hot, nutritional lunch is provided from the center's own kitchen and chef for a nominal fee of $4 or $5. And then, there is the Meals on Wheels program.

Did you know that Meals on Wheels is administered throughout the United States almost entirely by local senior centers? Here in my town, the meals are cooked in the ACC kitchen, packaged there and delivered by ACC volunteers. For some elders, this is the only food they get.

As you may know, the sequestration that Congress and a large portion of the media seem to believe hurts no one has forced funding cuts to Meals on Wheels programs. Senior centers are scrambling to find, raise and/or reallocate funds to feed as many people as possible.

Even so, as a direct result of sequestration, 40 percent of Meals on Wheels programs are being forced to eliminate staff, 50 percent are reducing the number of elders served and 70 percent are reducing the number of meals delivered.

But god forbid that Congress members can't leave Washington, D.C. at their whim. When sequestration caused cuts at area airports slowing the lawmakers' departures, they quickly reinstated the money needed to maintain their flights.

But none for Meal on Wheels (nor Head Start, for that matter.)

Maybe you would like to know just who the people are who benefit from local senior centers. Here's some information from the National Council on Aging (NCOA):

• Approximately 70% of senior center participants are women; half of them live alone.

• The majority are Caucasian, followed by African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians respectively.

• Compared with their peers, senior center participants have higher levels of health, social interaction and life satisfaction and lower levels of income.

• The average age of participants is 75.

In addition, NCOA research shows that participation in senior center programs helps elders learn to manage and delay the onset of chronic disease and improves their physical, social, spiritual, emotional, mental and economic well-being.

Not all senior centers provide as many options and services as the one in my town but as the baby boomers swell the ranks of elders, more and more are doing what they can to expand and improve what they offer. Those sequestration cuts are making that difficult.

So if you, like me before I learned better, dismissed senior centers as bingo daycare, now you know differently and maybe you'll look into your local centers for some entertainment, education, help you may need, and volunteer too, if you can.

Here are some links where you can read more about senior centers:

What You Don't Know About Your Local Senior Center
Senior Centers Fact Sheet
National Institute of Senior Centers

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: The Girl Who Hated P.E.


I learned a lot about our local senior centers when my mother was in assisted living. Wonderful places for seniors; my mother never missed a trip to the center, enjoyed the games and events.

Fortunately for her, she was able to stay in assisted living until she died, never moving to a nursing home. The assisted living places here are very nice; one can have a car, come & go (always signing in/out) but all the convenience of smallish apartment living -- staff help if needed. I think as I age, I wouldn't mind being in assisted living, compared to staying alone with help. Of course, I might change my mind...but the senior centers I've visited have impressed me too.

Yes I was a senior center snob. I started to go to the center because of a wonderful yoga teacher who is in her 60s --her classes are wonderful. Many senior centers feel and act as if we are still in the Fifties! They do offer some valuable services, in terms of meals, outreach, medical services. How about more attention to the growth opportunities of aging? I wish they would, but people seem to get that at OLLI, which of course is a different audience, more affluent.

In a world in which the sense of community is harder and harder to find, thanks for this new look: I had never seen senior centers in this light. As a writer, I especially like the idea of people who value the written word getting together, as readers, too.

Older people bring civilization wherever they go.

Bellevue College, in the Seattle area, has an excellent program of classes for seniors, as do many other colleges. Lots of bright seniors, still enjoying using their minds and learning new things! People often hang around, after classes, for coffee and more discussion.

Thank you for this. Hurrah...keep stirring us up. Without the hot lunches our downtown senior center served, our friend Duck wouldn't have had lunch. Meals on Wheels delivered to Duck, but he couldn't figure out how to open the hot dinners. Perhaps the diminished staffs could spend a precious moment opening packages for their demented seniors.

All of that is lovely if you can get to the centers. When I was in my 60's and 70's I did attend one a few times, but in my 80's I don't find that the effort of getting ready makes it worthwhile.

Actually, my hearing loss is the biggest problem I have in having any kind of social interaction, so I am not your average elder.

In my town volunteers from private organizations (mostly church sponsored) provide transportation to doctors and meals on wheels. The meals are prepared in the hospital kitchen and are supervised by a nutritionist. I started using that service (only $2 per meal or free for the impoverished) about a year ago and it is a blessing. Shame on Congress.

I have no idea of what is offered here. I had the rep for the Area Office on Aging here and all she said was that I didn't qualify for meals on wheels. I'd love to go play cards once a week or so or do arts & crafts.

One of the selling points for our new house was, for me, how close the local senior center is. Oddly, we've been here a year and we've never set foot inside. I plan to remedy that soon!

I've visited the Lake Oswego Senior Center when my Dad lived there and it is exceptional.

I joined our senior center in Walla Walla, called The Center at the Park, located in, wait for it, a small park. It's struggling a bit for money and trying to find $ for their meals on wheels venture which was hacked in the budget cuts. I've gotten my taxes done there and get pedicures sans polish for $12 those times that my cranky back won't let me reach my toes. Very nice, foot soak & foot massage included. They send a report to your doctor if you are diabetic.

There are exercise classes, Tai Chi, Yoga, as well as pool & bridge. They've managed to raise enough $ to keep the daily $4 lunches going (free if you need) except for the last weekday of the month to balance the budget. There is a senior daycare here as well, womanned by volunteers that provides clients with activities and caregivers with a day off.

It's clean and welcoming, and struggling for money. Much of the shortfall is made up by private donors but it is still an asset for our community. So no, not a senior center snob.

I looked into some local (Denver) senior centers a few years ago, thinking about a tai chi class. However, I never overcame the "initial inertia" to get out the door and drive at least 5 miles to get there in the early morning. I did, however, learn about the many services they offer, including bus trips to the mountains for day hiking, which would be glorious if I were in shape for it.

Definitely a senior center snob - I thought I was too "intellectual for that". But now that I am alone I am giving it serious thought for some of the programs - Zumba Gold and Ti Chi - but as I am thinking of moving have decided to wait. Lucky for me I have several volunteer jobs, a super book group and many good friends, but a move would mean starting over and I now think a senior center would be good place to start.

I live in a 55+ community. We enjoy the feeling of being like a small town, with lots of social interaction and options. It's a healthy, vibrant place to live, and we do not isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. I love it! But my friend from "outside" calls it Kevorkian Estates. Ha. Ha. Not.

It was a woman a few years my junior who got me into a yoga class at our senior center. I started doing ceramics there,too, and she joined that class at my suggestion. She is now a full-fledged ceramist who takes classes and workshops, has set up her own studio and has made a lot of money selling her work. And she had never done ceramic work before!
She parlayed a hobby into a second career.
Our senior center members include many Japanese-Americans, who do tai-chi, bon dancing and other things. They are a very social group by nature.
The karaoke group starts about an hour and a half into our ceramics class, and I always have to repress my laughter when the groaners start in on their renditions of "My Way."
I really love our senior center. They provide great services and social support to us elders here.

Great post..very informative. I'm going to check into the senior center here in Ferndale, WA. I would like to have a yoga class... Thanks for the post.

Thank you, Ronni. Yes I am a snob. Although it is not only that. If I go to my local Senior Citizens Centre (that's what they are called in Oz) it is confessing that I am really THAT old. However, I was down at the Senior Cits (our nickname for such placss) this week to hear our Federal Member of Parliament, now a shiny new Cabinet Minister, hold a forum on Social Security. Well over 100 people packed the small auditorium. I indulged myself with people watching among the aged. We were all shapes, sizes, and ages over 65. We were all white. Multi-cultural Australia was not on display there - except for occasional faces that looked as if they might have come from Italy or Greece long ago. I am wondering if I should join. I don't feel any great need to ... but I wonder if it is a bit like joining a union - the benefit of numbers pursuing a goal. Because of universal health insurance in Australia, there is not the same need to access health related services through such Centres. Meals-on-Wheels is under threat in some areas due to a lack of volunteers. So I wonder. Your timely article may well impel me to wander in next week and pay my membership fee.

We've been using our Senior Activity Center for quite a few years now. We've taken a stained glass class, I line dance twice a week, go to a craft group, DH has joined the carving group. I've taken tai chi, dulcimer lessons, exercise classes, clogging and a trip to Italy. The ping pong group is extremely active and growing all the time. There is much more we don't take advantage of. It's been a great place to spend time.

I took was a member at the Lake Oswego ACC, am currently a member of Senior Studies Institute (SSI) which meets at that center to discuss current events each week, Wed. at l:00. You might give it a try, Ronni. Two reasons I don't currently belong to the ACC: they have a group just for widows but not single women overall(divorced ladies not welcome, I guess), and there are few women age 65 to 70, my age group. I loved my OLLI group but OLLI national just dropped us here in Portland due to lack of members(no one knew about us).We are desperately trying to stay together as our own group; it is the center of many of our lives. Anyone who has one in their city should check it out.

This is a great article about senior centers. I am 65 and went through the same learning curve. Thanks for spreading the word.

I am 60 years old but just realizing it. A couple of years ago my 33 year old girlfriend left me. Devastated, I thought my life was over. Rationalizing, I told myself I had done pretty much everything I wanted to do in life and just sat and waited to die. Well after 2 years of waiting I figured it wasn't going to happen, not on my time frame. So I decided to enroll in collage. I got a grant from the government for $5,000, and a student loan for$10,000 . I graduate culinary school in March. I have volunteered my cooking services to adult day health care center here in HMB, CA during slow school weeks. I am slowly coming to the realization that after graduation finding employment fresh out of school at 60 isn't very realistic. Even though I'm in good health and active. The love and warmth I experienced while volunteering as chef for the day health center is remarkable. Watching the elderly enjoying the meals I prepared for them brought tears joy to my eyes. Their gratitude was overwhelming and beautiful. I am considering volunteering full time after graduation but I have a school loan to worry about paying back. I don't really know how I can at this point. I may have to sweep floors at McDonalds

We-llllll, okay, I'll give it another shot. There is a good yoga instructor, and I've been there for SHIP help, which was invaluable. So, enthused, I thought I'd offer to teach art journalling, painting, drawing, whatever........now this isn't just old people........most people want to learn how to paint flowers, making them pretty...........oh dear, I. Just. Can't. Sometimes I feel guilty, but no, I just can't. Also, the senior center nearest me is a half hour drive, and i have so many things that interest me right here. Today I left home for the first time in a long, cold, happy week.

The comments to this entry are closed.