The population of Americans aged 65+ is expanding rapidly. While there is no reliable data currently, over 10 years ago Krout (1998) estimated that a network of 11,000 senior centers serves nearly 10 million older adults nationwide.
Despite the growth in the older adult population, senior centers face static—or in some cases, falling—attendance rates. Several complain about a lack of interest or participation among baby boomers. Others have minimal fiscal support to upgrade facilities, hire professional staff, or expand programming.
The dilemma is a Catch-22: How do we attract greater numbers of older adults without modernizing — and how do we modernize without adequate fiscal support?
Today’s older adults have greater choices and options for recreation, socialization, and aging-related services than ever before. If senior centers are to compete in this new environment, we need to establish conclusively who we are and what we do. We need to ask ourselves:
- What impact do we have on the older adults who participate in our programs?
- How do we influence and enrich the communities we serve?
- How do we know that the programs or services we offer are effective?
- How do we know that we are meeting the evolving needs of our target population?
- What do senior center participants look like nationally?
- How does the larger world perceive us and our role within the realm of aging services?
To answer these questions, we need reliable data and information. This data can only be provided through rigorous research and scientific exploration.
The world of not-for-profit services is beginning to understand the importance of outcome evaluation—focusing not on what we offer, but on the impact of what we offer on our clients. The organization that makes the biggest impact or generates the most excitement is the one that gets funded.
NISC and NCOA are committed to helping senior centers raise their public profile, demonstrate their relevance to communities, and advocate for continued support. To help get the research we need, NISC and NCOA have created the new NISC Institute for Senior Center Research. The institute’s goals are to:
- Offer online access to current and past research on senior centers.
- Operate as a clearinghouse for senior center-related research across the country.
- Promote and participate in cutting-edge research projects to advance the interests of our field.
- Create a network of researchers, practitioners, and academics engaged in valuable research.
- Explore research grants from public and private sources to increase the knowledge base of our field.
I have agreed to assume the role of NISC National Director of Senior Center Research. As a former senior center director and current senior center researcher, I have devoted my research agenda to demonstrating the critical role that senior centers play in the aging continuum of care and to building awareness for the impact of senior centers in our communities.
What ideas do you have for senior center research? Please share your thoughts with us. We also hope that you will participate in future research studies with us. For more information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Manoj Pardasani, PhD, LCSW
National Director of Senior Center Research, NISC
Associate Professor, Fordham University
Faculty Research Scholar, Ravizzin Center on Aging