What do you think of when someone says the words senior center? Do you picture older people (much older than you, of course) sitting around playing bingo and shuffleboard? Eating bland meals while a television is blaring?
Time to update your vision! Senior centers are not what they used to be. Today’s senior center is a vibrant, action-packed combination of local fitness center, job and volunteering headquarters, transportation hub, and tasty dining locale.
And September is a great time to get to know your local senior center. September is National Senior Center Month, sponsored by the National Institute of Senior Centers (NISC), part of the National Council on Aging (NCOA). All around the country, senior centers are hosting special events to showcase the theme: Celebrate LIFE at Your Senior Center!
Make a plan to visit your local senior center this month. Here are some things you might discover:
Most senior centers are for anyone aged 50+.
You don’t have to be on Medicare to take advantage of all the great opportunities at your local senior center. Today, nearly 11,000 senior centers serve 1 million older adults aged 50+ every day.
Approximately 70% of senior center participants are women. Three-quarters visit their center one to three times per week and spend an average of 3.3 hours per visit.
Research shows that compared with their peers, senior center participants have higher levels of health, social interaction, and life satisfaction.
Senior centers don’t just offer card games.
Sure, cards are available (and fun and challenging). But most senior centers offer far more than that—everything from trips and special events to fine arts and crafts, music and dance, lifelong learning, and fitness and health programs. Just check out these examples:
- The Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center has its own television studio. Senior Center TV covers what’s happening at the center and produces original programs on nature, politics, and community life. Center performances, concerts, and lectures are recorded and broadcast for people who can’t attend in person.
- The Bowie, MD, Senior Center invited the community to hear 20 published authors read from their works during a Book Lovers Expo in August. Participants also could purchase books and have them signed by the author.
- Verona Senior Center in Verona, WI hosts competitive Wii bowling teams, offers caregiver support groups and respite programs, and maintains a computer lab with Internet connections for public use.
Senior centers are a great place to find work and volunteering opportunities.
Older adults who are looking for a part-time job to supplement their retirement income would do well to check out their local senior center. Many offer job training and placement programs.
In Columbus, IN, the Mill Race Center links older workers with a nearby private staffing business to help them land part-time, temporary, or full-time employment.
Senior centers are also a great place to find volunteering opportunities. At the Dallas L. Winchester Senior Center in Wabash, IN, older adults run the Community Cupboard Food Pantry, distributing 223,258 pounds of food to needy families every year.
The City of Madison/Madison Senior Services in Wisconsin has a successful volunteer program called CATCH Healthy Habits that pairs older adults with children to encourage healthier eating and physical activity.
Senior centers are also a great place to get healthy.
Health and fitness are where senior centers have really expanded in recent years. In addition to traditional programs like aerobics, Zumba, yoga, and Tai Chi, many senior centers now offer evidence-based health programs that have been scientifically proven to make people healthier.
One example is A Matter of Balance, a program that gives people practical tips to reduce the fear of falling. Another is the Chronic Disease Self-Management Program, which helps people with conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis learn how to reduce their symptoms, eat well, and communicate with their doctors.
Many senior centers also offer regularly scheduled blood pressure and glucose screenings that can replace tedious trips to a medical clinic for those simple procedures.
A growing number of senior centers are earning national accreditation.
In addition to sponsoring National Senior Center Month, the National Institute of Senior Centers is working to advance the quality of senior centers nationwide. It offers the nation’s only National Senior Center Accreditation Program. Accreditation provides official recognition that a senior center meets nine standards of senior center operations.
More than 200 senior centers have been accredited, and many more are in the process.
Get to know your local senior center this September!