By Trena Winans, Senior Services Education & Community Outreach Director
September is a month when we celebrate Senior Centers! The first center began in New York City in 1943 and centers have multiplied since to become one of the most broadly utilized services for older adults. Each day, over 1 million elders make connections at one of 11,000 senior centers spread around the nation. For many, this experience is transformative since under one roof they may enjoy nutritious meals, transportation options, counseling, health, education and recreation programs, case assistance for benefits and other services, and perhaps most importantly, social engagement and reduced isolation.
It is no great secret that getting older often leads to increasing isolation. Friends and family may move a great distance, lose touch or pass away. New studies are showing that loneliness is twice as likely to lead to early death as obesity for elders. According to a study from the University of Chicago reported in Science Daily, “Feeling extreme loneliness can increase an older person’s chances of premature death by 14 percent…The research shows that the impact of loneliness on premature death is nearly as strong as the impact of disadvantaged socioeconomic status, which they found increases the chances of dying early by 19 percent.”
Meanwhile, another study reported in Science Daily from the University of Florida found severe health effects when people perceived discrimination based on their age. “Loneliness was the most widespread health consequence of discrimination among older adults. Discrimination based on every characteristic assessed in Sutin’s study was associated with greater feelings of loneliness. According to previous studies, the effects of chronic loneliness are severe: increased risk for unhealthy behaviors, sleep disturbances, cardiovascular risk factors and suicide.”
So how does an older person find and make new friends? Activity and Dining Centers are among the best resources! We all have a need for human contact and there is nothing quite the same as sitting with someone and sharing conversation. Elderblogger, Ronni Bennett says, “There is something so life-giving about sitting across a room or table from another, touching a hand as you talk perhaps and, depending on what you are saying, seeing the twinkle, or sadness, in the other person’s eye.”
If family is far away or too busy to give you as much time as you would like, making new friends can allow you to re-define family. This type of family includes those who live nearby, share common interests and care about each other. Countless attendees at local centers have made friends that became the backbone of their emotional support system.
Activity centers make every effort to be responsive to community needs, and for many older adults become their only outlet for socialization, recreation, meals, and life-enhancing services. Activity and Dining centers provide significant and quality services and are cost-effective for participants. A safe, inviting space for older adults to socialize in and receive services, Senior centers are widely recognized as a critical component in the aging continuum of care.
Have you ever visited a Center? If not, what are you waiting for? Make friends, meet new people, volunteer, exercise, browse the library, get lunch, take a class or join a club. There is no wrong way and no better time than the present to see for yourself why Senior Centers are experts at living well!