Why do we support a senior center in our neighborhood? As our society ages, the importance of senior centers grows astronomically. Seniors need support as longevity increases. We may lose a spouse in the later years, our adult children may live across the country and have obligations of their own and we have often lost the support of friends through death and illness. I know that when I retired, I did not miss driving on I-5 but I missed the social contacts with both co-workers and the patients I served. I threw myself into community activities to fill that void.
Our Senior Center is not only a gathering place for those who continue to be independent, but it serves a vulnerable population as well. The Central, the café that serves nutritious lunches during the week, may provide the only well-balanced meal during the day for some folks. Few men (of that generation) who have lost their spouses have the cooking skills needed for maintaining health.
When Red Apple was still open, I happened to be in line behind a recent widower I knew from the Senior Center and I was appalled to see a stack of frozen meals in his basket. I was glad that he was coming to the Center for his lunches and getting some green salads and fresh fruit. And it is not only about the nutritious meals that they provided; it is the social setting and human community. We all eat better when we are not eating alone. I can remember “alone” times in my younger days when I didn’t want to bother fixing something nutritious and would stand by the sink with a spoon in one hand and the cottage cheese container in the other hand. Not totally bad, but not well balanced.
The Senior Center also offers many classes and activities to either help seniors retain physical strength or stimulate one’s mind. One of the most popular classes is the exercise class long led by Ernestine Robinson and Charlesetta MacDougal, certified teachers in the Enhanced Fitness program developed by the UW and Group Health (now Kaiser Permanente). The program has a focus on upper body strength ensuring that if you do fall, you can get yourself back up. Periodically, separate classes are given at the Center in fall prevention and balance.
Other important classes that are given a few times per year is the AARP driving course, which can help save money on car insurance. Leschi resident Judy Ellis is a SHIBA (State Health Insurance Benefits advisor) volunteer and helps seniors with their health insurance questions, assisting in comparing plans during the open season.
Ray Bradley gives the computer classes in the technology room. Seniors who learn to email can keep in touch with their far-flung families who are often too busy to write the old-fashioned letter; emails can be brief and to the point.
We will look at other popular classes in this issue but one gets the picture. Senior Centers can help folks both physically and mentally. Social isolation is common among seniors and is often seen as a major health concern. Maine has hired “senior companions” to visit isolated seniors on a weekly basis; it is more than just a “checking in” process; it is a chance to talk and reminisce which keeps folks grounded. I used to tire of my Dad’s stories about Bradley tanks, but now I miss them; testing those tanks in the desert was often a risky job but one that he valued; he was doing his part and everyone likes to think that they have done their part in whatever this life process is as they near the end.