Senior Centers, Part II: Line Dancing at Age 93

Video courtesy Microsoft/IN2L/Selfhelp

You might have missed a piece I wrote earlier this month about senior centers' efforts to woo baby boomers. (At 78 million-strong, this demographic is a membership director's dream.) To attract the Forever Young Generation, some centers are dropping "senior" from their name and serving up hip offerings such as wine tastings, dating and divorce workshops and Pilates.

Programming for what are considered traditional, older attendees is also changing. (It's Senior Center Month, so I'm giving equal time to the more senior group.) Expect your standard card games, a hot meal, and podiatric clinic, but also a growing emphasis on computer and technology instruction (Gmail 101, Skyping with the grandkids, uploading photos to Facebook), exercise and wellness, and stretching the mind through abundant learning opportunities. At many centers, the frail who can't do regular yoga keep up with chair yoga. There's often Wii Sports, water workouts, and Zumba Gold dance which is gentle on the joints.

The Senior Center in Charlottesville, VA, has more than 100 programs and special events, different levels of line dancing--one participant is 93-and a computer lab. A weekly group for Mac users and Windows workshops also keep participants up to snuff. Music-making is another key component. The Charlottesville center, open seven days a week, for instance, has a wind instrument group, sing-alongs, barbershop, and a jazz band.

For those who want to participate but are unable to leave their house,  New York City is testing The Virtual Senior Center. A 2-inch touch screen device with integrated webcams in the frail person's home allows him or her to interact from afar with those at the center. Although homebound, they can participate in music classes, and sing the tunes in real time, pipe in on discussion groups and listen to museum lectures. (The  AARP Foundation, along with other non-profits and companies, has given the city a grant to help with the initiative.)

"The biggest killer is isolation and loneliness," says Ruthann Dobek, executive director of the Brookline Senior Center in Brookline, Mass., outside Boston. "At our Center, they see that people care about them and that they can make important contributions. They come here and say they begin to feel younger." One of the most popular classes for the very old in Brookline is current events.

Caregiving education and support groups for all ages at senior centers are also on the rise. Many are disease specific, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. There is increased awareness community-wide that keeping the caregiver healthy and decreasing stress is good "medicine" for everyone in the family.  With that in mind, Charlottesville's senior center has an annual day for caregivers, with programs on spirituality, community resources, speakers, exercise, massages.

Have you noticed any cool programs at your local senior center or think of any you'd like to see?  What would make you want to participate?

Sally Abrahms can be reached at or through her website. Follow her on Twitter!


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