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  • Ann Hollander

Senior centers: Worth a fresh look

Even pre-COVID, many 90-year-olds adamantly refused to go to a senior center, saying they didn't want to be around "all those old people." (!)

Does this sound like your loved one?

Admittedly, the senior centers of the past tended to focus on bingo and crafts. These activities are of limited interest to the newest generation of older adults.

Happily, senior centers have been updating. Bingo and crafts are still there. But the upswing in technology use during COVID catapulted many centers into the 21st century. They had to update their delivery platforms so older adults could participate from a distance. They also revamped their offerings to appeal to the "younger old."

  • Relevant classes. These days you are likely to find Beginning Smartphone, Cyber Safety, and Zoom 101. Also, health and fitness classes such as yoga and tai chi. Zumba, a Latin-inspired dance-exercise, is a popular cardio workout. There are classes to stretch the mind—learn a new language, watch a TED talk and discuss the topic. Or take up a hobby such as photography, gardening, or painting. Some centers are hosting intergenerational activities for teens and seniors. Ever been to a team cake decorating contest?

  • Transportation. Many senior centers sponsor field trips. Some to scenic places, others to the theater or music hall. They do the driving! This makes fun outings possible again for isolated individuals or those who are no longer driving. Also common are free driver programs. They help older adults get to medical appointments or go food shopping.

  • Coffee, tea, and food! Some centers have opened cafés for coffee or tea, hoping to entice reticent seniors through the door. Another attraction is a low-cost or free weekday lunch. And some even feature "pop-up chef days."

  • Expert help. Medicare and insurance counseling are frequently available. So is help filing with the IRS at tax time.

  • Volunteer opportunities. Many classes and programs are led by seniors. Your relative might enjoy pitching in as a helper.

If the person you care for has resisted the senior center, propose having a coffee if there's a café. Or sign up for a field trip to the theater and go together. These are low-commitment ways to let them get a fresh sense of the center and overcome any outdated impressions. Concerned about a loved one's isolation? COVID brought awareness of its hazards front and center. We at Options for Aging have been impressed at the many ways senior centers stepped up to the plate. As the North Shore and Chicago expert in family caregiving, we encourage you to check out their new offerings. You (and your loved one) might be happily surprised. If isolation is a worry, give us a call at 847-868-1445.

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