Programming For The Frail
An important question related to participant characteristics and a key to senior center identity and the roles they play in the community-based service network is the degree to which senior centers serve older adults with cognitive and/or physical limitations. A number of researchers looking at senior center participation and participants have observed that frail older persons are underserved by such places, and that older individuals who are frail physically and mentally or are members of minority groups make up a very small percentage of senior center users. On the other hand, research also suggests that relative to other organizations, senior centers are significantly involved with programming for frail people. For example, Cox and Monk (1989, 1990) report that 90 percent of the New York State center directors they surveyed said frail older adults were integrated into center programming and 16 percent said their centers had developed separate programs for this populations. Conrad and others found that senior centers were the most prevalent co-location site for nonfreestanding adult day care programs in the United States.
Krout conducted an exhaustive review of the research on this topic in the early 1990s (Krout, 1995) and concluded that the lack of data and definitional inconsistencies made it difficult to assess the exact degree to which senior centers serve frail older adults. Many of the services that centers routinely offer can be of value to individuals who need assistance with daily activities (e.g., adult day care, transportation, in-home meals and other in-home services, telephone reassurance). A much smaller but still significant number of centers develop programs to meet the needs of older adults with particular functional limitations. Planning, financial resources and time, appropriate space, and staff training are often cited as critical to successful senior programming for frail older adults. Again, considerable variation is found between senior centers in the numbers of elders with significant physical or cognitive limitations served. As senior center user populations ‘‘age-in-place,’’ these organizations are facing increasing numbers of physically and mentally frail participants in need of supportive programming. Thus, there is a demographic as well as a social imperative for more information on and support of center activities for at-risk older populations.
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