LIVERPOOL — When we get into our empty nest years, we can often find ourselves with idle time, but the extra alone time can leave us wanting more to do outside of our homes. Especially if we’re retired, working part-time, or living away from family, we may have more freedom and fewer responsibilities but feel a need to get out to socialize. Community centers for senior citizens can be terrific places for that much-needed connection for elder folks who may feel isolated much of the time. It can be a place to make new friends, to sit around a coffee klatch and feel welcome while enjoying casual conversations, and much more.
It’s natural for people to gather to share a meal, and that can be a big draw for many seniors, but there are so many more activities that people can do in a group while enjoying each other’s company. There are plenty of options to choose from these days, so joining a senior center and being a regular participant can relieve loneliness and add to a sense of well-being.
Now that many people live well into their 80s and 90s, demographics can be a factor in deciding what folks of different generations may want to experience at a senior center. Increased longevity has produced two distinct generations of elders; the Silent Generation, who are now mostly 80 years old or more, and the Baby Boomer generation who are now entering old age, with the oldest of this enormous group celebrating their 76th birthday this year. There can be distinctly different expectations and needs of each group, and what they seek in a community center.
The Silent Generation is quite old now, and many, having been youngsters during World War II, may have memories of having to scrimp and save most of their lives. Families tended to be larger and mothers typically did not work outside the home, so household income was limited to one earner, usually the father. Consequently, many of them may be on a limited income and may not have much money to spend on fun times with groups.
Many women of this older generation may have learned to knit earlier in life, as a way to make their own scarves, hats, socks, or sweaters. A knitting circle could be a reason to gather and enjoy each other’s company and reminisce about the past. Everybody likes to tell stories about themselves, and having a group of friends around to listen and share is a welcome outlet for communication that may be lacking at home. Also, music preferences tend to be generational, so getting together to sing or be entertained by singers and musicians is always a welcome group activity. Researchers have found that music and singing can help to release pain and tension while increasing joy and creativity. And many seniors still look forward to participating in religious services that are provided at some centers and rest homes.
Although many of our elders can stay active into their 80s and 90s, others have health issues that limit their mobility; while vision or hearing loss and cognitive decline can also be an unwelcome reality of aging. These can be factors in the ability to interact; some may need a ride because they don’t drive. Others may not be able to carry on meaningful conversations with others if their hearing or memory has been diminished. Typical group activities like playing cards or games, and writing stories about their life experiences may not be suitable for their cognitive abilities at this point. But even if they can only get together for a meal, reminisce about the good ol’ days, or join in singing a song, an outing to a senior center can be something they look forward to. It can combat the isolation of sitting around the house, with the added benefit of social support too.
Finding the right center to meet their needs is important. The Baby Boomer generation is getting into old age, but some of them may still be working, at least part-time. They may be more highly educated than generations that came before them, so they can have different expectations of a senior center than the older generation has. Boomers are likely to be more active and have unique preferences. More members of this generation are likely to have disposable income that can be spent on experiences over and above basic needs and medical treatments.
Plenty of Boomers are interested in New Age activities like yoga, meditation, and book groups. Instead of just cards and board games, they may want to play Mah Jongg or pickleball which requires a few players. Having an active lifestyle can be important for maintaining good health, and this can lead to a desire for group nature walks, travel with friends, going to theater shows, casino trips, and lunch or shopping away from the center. Organizing groups to serve the less fortunate in their own communities can be done now that there is more free time in their lives.
Some may want to start new projects in order to interact in meaningful ways, like starting a community garden or a quilting group, where they can donate the fruits of their labor to a local charity that will help them spread the wealth. Taste in music is unique to their generation, and going to an outdoor concert together is enjoyable to many.
Seasonal celebrations can bring people together, and a senior center can be a place where they can “find their tribe“ and share in traditional activities that they can’t do alone. Whether it’s creating special foods or decorating in seasonal decor, these are special times that can bring folks together and get them to share memories and get to know each other better in doing so.
This can promote the intermingling of multiple generations, with activities that are familiar to seniors of all ages.
A senior center can be a place to meet new people and make new friends. This can be such a blessing for an older person who may not get out in the community as much as they would like.
It promotes connection, which keeps them from feeling isolated, and helps with moving forward. It can be a gathering place for a nutritious meal in the company of friends whom you feel comfortable with. And that’s a great feeling at any age.
This article originally appeared in the newsletter of Community Living Advocates, a Liverpool-based organization that maintains a database of senior care services in Central New York. For more information, visit communitylivingadvocates.com.