If you ask any one who manages a senior center they will tell you there seems to be a certain part of the population missing, those in their late sixties and early seventies. Over just the last few years the traditional structure of come to a seated yoga class, have a warm midday meal and socialize, has not changed while its potential clientele has. The leading edge of the boomer population does not seem to interested in what their parents may have utilized to deal with the encroaching loneliness and inactivity of old age. As I heard one patron say, she could not convince her friend to come as she thought she was too young at age 82.
Where is that next generation? For the most part they are still working or maybe volunteering elsewhere or just too busy. This bleep on the radar begs the question where will that next somewhat younger person who can valiantly run these centers come from? Can senior centers change their image or is it already too late?
The possible exception to this are the senior centers in more wealthy centers where there is a vast array of services and amenities waiting for those who pay higher taxes. I visited such a center about 30 minutes from my home and was amazed at the range of what it had to offer. More transportation opportunities than grand central station, 5 different types of senior Zumba. Lectures, a theater program, a thrift store, cooking classes…
But for the most part, counties are under funded to start with. Few people appreciate the true resources of a senior center until a parent or loved one needs sorting out of financial matters and/or eligibility for more complex services. Part of the boomer mystique is that we are not really supposed to be growing old to start with and we do not need anything yet.
Something has to change and not simply finding as more with it name. I am interested in what Japan is planning for their increasing elderly population (now 1 in 4 over 65, by 2035 1 in 3). After the earth quakes, Japan moved towards making their convenience stores like the 7-eleven chain into emergency outreach centers. Now their Urban Renaissance Movement is looking to advance that to a more immediate level by allowing more convenience center stores to move into areas, especially in senior apartments. Rural areas as everywhere are still a challenge. Besides adding food delivery, seating for gatherings and even karaoke clubs,
They’ll offer many of the same elderly-friendly features as other branches, but with the addition of such services as room cleaning and mending, as well as in-store calisthenics. The stores’ operators may also handle maintenance problems on nights and weekends, when agency staff are off duty.
With a shaky unclear future for government funding for aging in this country (at least until 2020), maybe the private entrepreneur or non profit could reinvent the American senior center with a healthy strong connection to their local communities. A place where if not everybody but somebody knows your name.
Something has to change. Simply hoping that people will find their way to the few existing centers is not enough. As more people stay in their homes as they age, we should be developing a a clear lifeline out to the seniors in the all communities each with its own character and readily identifiable source of assistance…karaoke anyone?