Published in RINewsToday on September 19, 2022
Over nine years ago, this columnist penned a commentary, “Senior Centers, Not Just a Place to Play Bingo,” that appeared in the Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call. As we celebrate National Senior Centers Month in September, today’s Senior Centers continue to take a wholistic view of providing programs and services to their older participants. They are providing programming and services that truly takes into account the body, mind and social needs of their members, aged 55 and up. As I stated years ago, “senior centers are not a place that our parents once visited years ago to just knit or play bingo.” That continues to be true, and even more so, today.
“Every day, senior centers bring our grandparents, parents, older neighbors, and friends together to build community and share trusted services and information to help all age well,” said Dianne Stone, NCOA’s Associate Director of Network Development and Engagement in a statement announcing the September celebration of the nation’s Senior Centers. “Research shows that compared with their peers, people who attend senior centers have higher levels of health, social interaction, and life satisfaction,” she says.
“There’s never been a better time to come home to your senior center,” Stone said. “Come see everything your local center has to offer,” adds Stone.
Senior Centers continue to be a catalyst for mobilizing the creativity, energy, vitality, and commitment of the older participants, says Mayor Donald R. Grebien in a proclamation he released on September 1, recognizing September as Senior Citizens Month. The City’s Leon Mathieu Senior Center, like the 35 senior centers around the state, empower their older participants to take control of their own health and well-being and the health of their fellow participants, says the mayor.
Established in the 1980s by the U.S. Administration on Aging, the centers programming has slowly evolved to encompass activities that encourage healthy aging and wellness. Senior Centers across the Ocean State offer activities and programs, case management and social services and public benefits counseling, also social and cultural programming, social and recreational opportunities, even offering a place to eat a nutritional meal.
Many of the Senior Centers have their own vans and drivers who transport seniors to and from their homes for shopping, social cultural activities, to medical appointments and into each Senior Center’s meal sites.
Even during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Senior Centers responded by connecting with their members by making health checks thru telephone calls, offering programs and services via internet and social media sites, and delivering meals to the homebound seniors. During the ongoing pandemic, Senior Centers continue to provide countless hours of support to older adults, and have become integral to health care delivery throughout Rhode Island by providing COVID-19 guidance home testing kits and vaccine education to their participants.
At Pawtucket’s Leon Mathieu Senior Center, health screenings, specifically taking blood pressure readings, are performed by nursing students from Rhode Island College and URI Pharmacy students discuss the importance of being compliant with taking prescribed medications, too. Proper nutritional counseling is also offered.
Starting in church basements, many as small social clubs, the passage of the Older Americans Act in 1965, propelled Senior Centers into a key provider role in the nation’s long term care continuum of care.
Today, more than 10,000 Senior Centers serve one million older adults every day. In Rhode Island, 35 agencies, serving over 200,000 persons, are geographically spread out from Westerly to Woonsocket and from Foster to Tiverton. Some are managed by municipalities, others by nonprofit groups. While catering to serving the state’s burgeoning elderly population, some have expanded their mission to offer programs for young and middle-aged adults.
According to the state’s Office of Healthy Aging, Rhode Island’s older adult population is growing rapidly. Over 31 percent of Rhode Islanders are 55 or older versus 28 percent nationally, and our state has the highest proportion in the United States of those 85 or older.
With the graying of Rhode Island, the state’s Senior Centers are offering programming and services to attract the state’s aging baby boomers by focusing on health and wellness, recreation, and lifelong learning. Yes, Senior Centers are a key provider in the state’s long-term care continuum to keep aging boomers, healthy, independent and allow them to age in place in the community.
Providing resources for local senior programs should be a shared responsibility of federal, state, and local governments, says Maureen Maigret, chair of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council’s Aging in Community Subcommittee and a Board Member of Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island (SACRI). “It was frustrating to see drastic state cuts to these programs in the mid 1990’s and we were pleased funding was restored. Governor McKee put $200,000 in the current budget, with the idea this was a step toward to providing funding equal to ten dollars per person aged 65-plus in each community,” she notes.
“Aging advocates such as the SACRI will be pushing to get to the ten dollar level,” says Maigret. As state funding increases, Maigret calls on local communities to continue to provide funding and resources to their local senior centers to meet projected population growth of their older adult residents.
According to Maigret, research has shown their importance in slowing or preventing functional decline and promoting a good quality of life.
Today’s Senior Centers are not your parent’s bingo hall, as some still mistakenly believe. Why not visit the Leon Mathieu Senior Center or your local Senior Center during National Senior Center Month and you may even be surprised with what you find? Call the Leon Mathieu Senior Center for more details about its offered programs and services at 401/728-7582. Or go to https://pawtucketri.com/senior-center.
To find a Senior Center in your community go to https://agefriendlyri.org/tools-resources/senior-centers-rhode-island/./Herb Weiss