Not Your Father’s Senior Center

HYANNIS – While senior centers around Cape Cod are crucial links to services for many older residents, they offer much more.

If you think that a senior center is a place to go to sit and rock your time away, you are mistaken. And if you think at the young age of 60, it’s not right for you, a tour of your local center may change your mind and have you signing up for one if not more of the many activities they have to offer.

“People who don’t identify with the word ‘senior,’ don’t think we have anything to offer them,” said Madeline Noonan, director of senior services at theBarnstable Senior Center. “The oldest baby boomers are now in their early 70s and there is this whole notion that baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) don’t want to be labeled as seniors. Typically, it seems people become more comfortable with being a senior when they are in their 80s.”

She explained that one of the biggest challenges for senior centers in any community is that many people self-isolate.

“They may lose a spouse and retreat into depression and grief that can be hard to combat. Their social circles may have closed up or they don’t have family close by.”

The senior center outreach departments offer a safety net for those who are isolated and may need transportation or other services to help them remain independent. The outreach workers assist seniors with information and referrals to local, state and federal programs including food, health insurance, fuel assistance, home safety programs among others.

“I talk about the senior centers all the time because they are a great resource,” said Kathy Hallman, LICSW, a social worker with theVNA of Cape Cod. “It’s a wonderful service offered through the towns.”

While her patients have to remain homebound when receiving VNA services, she refers them to the senior center outreach workers who can make visits and help them apply for fuel assistance, food stamps and other programs.

“The senior centers’ transportation programs are very helpful for patients who don’t have family nearby,” said Hallman. “I also encourage patients to attend the lunches at the centers once they are off our services. It helps them to socialize and learn more about the programs available to them.”

Here are some of the variety of programs offered at the 15 senior centers on Cape Cod:

  • Exercise programs: Tai chi, yoga, Zumba, cardio fitness, various types of dancing, senior volleyball, strength training, cycling, hiking and sailing.
  • Technology education: Many of the senior centers offer courses on how to use computers, offer tech support and tips for using your iPhone, iPad and other devices.
  • Legal advice: Visiting volunteer lawyers will meet with you to answer your questions.
  • Health and nutrition: Nurses will answer questions about health and dieticians are available at some centers to talk about nutrition.
  • SHINE: Have questions about your health insurance, Medicare and supplementary insurances? SHINE volunteers have a wealth of knowledge in these areas.
  • Art, photography, trips, learn a foreign language, crafting and gardening.
  • Transportation

Much More

Kevin Grunwald, MSW, social service coordinator at the Harwich Senior Center, works closely with the Harwich fire and police departments to help assess seniors who may require additional assistance.

“A lot of times, they will go to someone’s home to answer a call or do a rescue and find they are living alone. They may notice that the home is not being taken care of or the senior may be exhibiting some confusion or there isn’t a lot of food,” he said.

He follows up with the senior and works with family members to initiate services and support.

“The whole concept of aging has changed pretty dramatically,” he said. “I do think the challenge is trying to change the notion that people have about senior centers and what goes on there. There are some pretty wonderful programs at the centers.”

Another challenge is many people in their 60s are still working, he said. To that end, the Barnstable Senior Center is considering remaining open a couple of nights a week to accommodate the working population of seniors, according to Noonan.

The centers have created a variety of ways to entice seniors to take a look at what they have to offer. One way is to provide a way for people to share a conversation over lunch or dinner. All of the Cape senior centers offer lunch from one or twice a month to five days a week, and Harwich has an evening meal on Mondays.

“We provide transportation for that and a lot of times, it’s a way of getting people in the door,” said Grunwald. “And if they live alone, that’s the one time during the day or week they are with other people.”

He said another challenge is getting men to come out. Three years ago he started a men’s monthly hour- long breakfast.

“We started the breakfast with eight guys and now have 75 to 80 on a regular basis,” he said. He also started a men’s book group, which is much smaller, but he considers it a nice resource.

At the Barnstable Senior Center, there is a pool room in the basement that accommodates a group that used to travel to Yarmouth to play billiards.

And there is an intergenerational music program with students from the two Sturgis High School campuses playing performances and creating playlists for the seniors in the Adult Supportive Day program.

By ROBERTA CANNON, Cape Cod Health News

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