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
Foot care clinics
Rides to doctor appointments
Rides for grocery shopping
Medical equipment loans
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:
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Marcy Belson: The Girl Who Hated P.E.