The Importance of Senior Centers; an often Overlooked Resource

Although getting older and reaching our senior years is a near-universal experience, we are generally uninformed as what we are to do when our health declines or we begin needing help. Perhaps it is because people think insurance will cover their needs, but unfortunately, Medicare does not cover long term care services for the long term. Many people know little about the resources that exist for senior citizens and oftentimes only start researching once a crisis precipitates action. This is where senior centers step in. Senior centers are extremely important because they offer education, caregiver resources, and even activities including exercise classes. Senior centers are often overlooked, but they shouldn’t be, because they exist to improve the quality of life for their local senior population.

Senior centers are a great first stop for people hoping to learn more about what might be available to them in regard to resources, advocacy, and benefits. Depending on a person’s age, a senior center can offer many different services. In addition, the services offered vary greatly depending on each specific locale. For example, some centers assist seniors with filing taxes. Some assist with medical paperwork and billings, demystifying complicated insurance paperwork and billings for seniors. Some centers simply point you in the directions of local advocates in the form of social workers, volunteers, aid programs, placement agents, and/or benefit programs. Also, some serve as a social hub or the local 60+ gym with classes like yoga, Pilates, and more. Senior centers often have resources that assist with some of the most important needs facing the older population – financial security, housing security, and food security, and even jobs.

We may think of senior centers as being for people deep into their retirement years, but some offer programs to link seniors to part time jobs or volunteer work. This can range from the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) which is funded by the federal government to old fashioned job postings on a bulletin board. The SCSEP program is specifically for people 55+ and program applicants are hired at local or government run agencies. Likewise, for seniors simply looking to give back, there are plenty of volunteer programs that can be found through your local senior center.

For those who are caring for a senior in their life, senior centers also offer resources for caregivers. For example, in my home state of Arizona, our local senior center offers classes on how to get paid to be a family caregiver. Depending on income level, medical eligibility, and the state you live in, there may be programs available to help you get paid for caregiving. These programs can go by different names so it’ll take a little bit of research, but keep an eye out for names like consumer-directed, cash and counseling, or participant directed. This type of benefit essentially allows a person to hire a caregiver without excluding their loved one from that choice. Some states simply require that the caregiver become certified while others require them to meet with social workers or registered nurses to oversee care.  Regardless, the person in need of care must qualify for Medicaid Long Term Care benefits so click here for a state-by-state Medicaid eligibility guide.

The most overlooked element, and a core purpose of a senior center, is the social element. For seniors, it can be difficult to make new friends since many are no longer working, don’t have children in school to meet other parents, or don’t have the same neighbors they once had. Recently, the fitness/wellness model of a senior center has been expanding so for those who like to work out, the center can be a great place to meet new workout buddies. Also, it’s a place to join clubs, meeting groups, and sometimes even a place to get dinner. According to the National Recreation and Parks Association, there are four social models for senior center programming. To meet seniors’ needs, many senior centers function as a café, technology center, learning center, or a fitness center.

The senior center should be the gateway to a person’s senior years. Whether you are in your early senior years or later years, there is something for everyone. Find activities, education, work opportunities, caregiving resources, and more at your local center –all you have to do is type your zip code and the word senior center into Google and your nearest senior center will pop up. Whatever a person’s interests are, there is surely nothing to lose by going to the local senior center and meeting new people.

Max Gottlieb is the content manager for Senior Planning. Senior Planning offers free services to seniors in the form of finding and organizing care. Senior Planning also assists with benefit applications and creating essential legal documents.