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Senior Centers

Focal Points, Awareness And Utilization, Programs And Activities, Characteristics Of Senior Center Participants, Programming For The Frail

The modern-day senior center traces its roots back to the early 1940s when one of the earliest centers (the Hodson Center in New York City) focused on meeting the needs of lower income older people (Gelfand). The number of senior centers has grown to between twelve thousand and fourteen thousand depending on what one considers a senior center to be (Krout, 1989b; Wagner). Three White House Conferences on Aging, the passage of the Older Americans Act in 1965 and its subsequent amendments, and the activities of the National Council on the Aging have played important roles in this growth and expansion. According to the National Council on the Aging’s National Institute of Senior Centers, ‘‘A senior center is a community focal point on aging where older adults come together for services and activities that reflect their experience and skills, respond to their diverse needs and interests, enhance their dignity, support their independence, and encourage involvement in and with the community’’ (p. 5).

Most senior centers are multipurpose in that they provide a range of activities and services and are multifaceted in terms of the functions they fulfill for older participants as well as the roles they play in local social and health service networks. Throughout their history, senior centers have responded to the needs of at-risk and well older persons, with some centers developing a greater emphasis on one group or the other. Thus, perhaps more than any other word, variation defines senior centers today. Depending on the senior center and the geographic area in which it is located, considerable diversity is found in who attends a center, the number of programs it offers, and the size of its facility, staff, and resources.

Senior centers find themselves facing fundamental questions about what they do, who they serve, and how they can best respond to recent and projected demographic and social changes in the United States. Some of the most important questions are: How successfully do senior centers respond to the economic, cultural, and social diversity among older adults, and how should/can they best meet the needs of an increasingly diverse older population? What roles can senior centers best play in the menu of communitybased services and what must centers do to ensure their viability in the future? Will the programming that people in their sixties found appealing twenty years ago attract baby boomers when they begin to reach retirement age beginning in the year 2010?

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 4