Awareness And Utilization
Although only a handful of studies have been carried out on the awareness of senior centers (as opposed to services in general), it would appear that the large majority of older adults are aware of these organizations (Krout, 1984). As for center utilization, it is difficult to say with certainty just what percentage of older adults actually use senior centers, how frequent and intense this use is, and what activities and services older adults participate in when they do attend. Data from a 1984 national study focusing on health and social situations of older adults reveal that 13.7 percent of those persons sixty or over had attended a senior center in the preceding year (Krout et al.). Studies from the 1980s and 1990s have reported a wide range of utilization rates from 8 percent to 21 percent (Calsyn and Winter; Krout, 1983, 1996a). Thus, it would appear reasonable to state that between 10 to 20 percent of elderly adults in this country currently attend senior centers at least once a year. This figure translates into three and a half to seven million people age sixty-five and over. This figure should probably be increased by around one to one and a half million to include an additional 10 or more percent of the almost twelve million persons age sixty to sixty-four. The total number then might be as high as seven million and could even be higher if one considers that at least some nonusers might want to participate but do not for one reason or another.
What about change in the numbers or rates of senior center participation? Data collected as part of a longitudinal study of a national sample of senior centers conducted in the 1980s indicate that one-quarter of the centers experienced a decline in the number of participants or did not change while one-half had an increase. It is likely that the rates of center use among the older population did not change significantly in the 1990s, but the numbers have increased nationwide because the number of senior centers and seniors continued to grow in the 1980s and 1990s. However, senior center utilization patterns no doubt vary widely. For example, the majority of the more than one hundred rural AAA directors interviewed in the late 1980s reported significant declines in senior center attendance in their planning and service areas (Krout, 1989b). More recent anecdotal accounts indicate that many suburban senior centers, as well as those in big cities experiencing growth in their older population, have seen increases in participation.