Declining Senior Center Interest

Barbara Morris

An article in the local newspaper, “Director hopes to fight senior stigma” documented declining membership at a local senior center because it appears older people don’t want to be labeled “seniors.” Yaaaay!

It should be obvious that one reason for lack of interest is that eligibility for the center starts at age fifty. I am sure they exist but I don’t know any 50-year-old woman who thinks of herself as a senior.

Women today at age 50 generally do not yet have a “senior” mindset or interests. They are the “we’re the new 30 generation”. They are not looking to play bingo or hang out with women and men much older than themselves.

The center has some nice offerings: poker, sewing, pool, ceramics, quilting, doll making, watercolor, and bridge. All great stuff. However, all are passive, “living life as a pastime” activities, and there is nothing wrong with that. But how about classes that teach marketable skills as well?

I have met so many retired women who are bored to death and would love to have a part-time job but they have been out of the job market so long they don’t feel qualified to hold any kind of job. Their attitude seems to be, “it’s too late for me.” No, it’s not too late for a healthy person who wants to learn and be productive. If the senior center offered computer classes or classes that would help older people to get back into the job market they would likely see an increase in membership.

Burning question: Why do we insist on rounding up older people, stigmatizing them with labels that make them feel old, and herd them into age-segregated situations? Why can’t we call older adults “older adults” and let it go at that? And, why not encourage independence instead of supporting dependence and groupthink. Why is a senior center needed, anyway?

The senior culture is now very big business. Witness the number of communities that lure people “50 or better” to live in a situation that on the surface appears idyllic but actually is deadly for anyone who wants to maintain a youthful mindset and lifestyle. Granted, many people are happy in retirement communities and they are entitled to live how they choose without criticism. However, when you decide to close yourself off from the larger world and associate primarily with those the same age or older, this is a prescription for decline. We learn from each other and adopt the beliefs and behaviors of those we associate with most frequently. The senior culture is also big business in the number and nature of services available. Some are necessary and needed– many others are really needless and just suck money out of “seniors” convinced “they must have” every spending opportunity thrown at them.

Given the combination of a longer lifespan, and people continuing to retire at age 65 or sooner, plus inadequate financial planning and a shaky future for Social Security, it makes sense to rethink “retirement.” Just as people are exhorted to plan financially for retirement, it is even more important to plan for a balanced productive life after retirement.

Most financial planners just focus on financial preparation which means they are missing an opportunity to help people plan for how the money will be spent in the retirement years. Many workers spend their lives in jobs they hate or find unfulfilling and can’t wait for retirement. Many of these people undoubtedly would have preferred to do something else during work years but couldn’t because they had to make a living at what they could at the time. These are the folks who should have been helped to plan to use their retirement years to do work that is useful and fulfilling. Unfortunately, our culture does not encourage or support a productive retired population and all of us are paying for it in one way or another. Treating decline isn’t cheap.

If the senior center maintains the status quo and cannot find enough people willing to label themselves “seniors” it needs to shut down and save taxpayer money. Those “card-carrying seniors” (those who proudly call themselves seniors) who are looking for fun classes or companionship at a senior center — if they can find their way to a senior center, they can find their way to a local community college where they will find rewarding classes and activities that will put them in touch with the real world, teach them marketable skills, and provide an opportunity to meet interesting people of all ages and circumstances.

Healthy older people still wanting to work and remain part of the larger world can find their way out of the defined “senior slot” our backward ageist culture has created and pushed them into. It takes independence and guts to break ranks but it can and should be done.

Comments

  1. I have never been inside a senior center because I have other interest that keep me busy. My mother ;however, after she retired, helped out at a center and enjoyed it very much.

    Loved the article as usual. Ann

  2. You’re singing my song, Barbara. We’re squandering massive amounts of talent, leaving solvable problems unaddressed, and running up huge medical and assisted living bills, all because we are clinging to a bogus idea of what “old” really is. It’s time to get rid of the stereotypes and bias so older adults can find ways to engage that reflect our talents and what’s most important to each of us individually. The existing mindset on this as a nation is truly “too stupid to do.”

    Thanks for writing about it!

    • Thanks, Mary.

      Eloquently said. We were able to get vast numbers of people to give up smoking. I know it took big bucks to accomplish that “our side” will never do because the lure and “benefits” of retirement are constantly thrown at us. Like trained seals, we “all” want it. Or maybe we can win this battle. Anyone for a Go Fund Me Account to start a movement to help “educate” the “too stupid to do” masses?

      Barbara

  3. Amen! Not all people over 50, 60, 70, or 80 are the same or have the same interests. Some like to live in age-segregated Disneyfied complexes where they can play golf, play bingo, go to dances, and see old movies to their heart’s content. If that’s their choice, hope they enjoy it. However, I would imagine that many get bored with non-stop “fun,” just as some get bored with activities at daytime senior centers. For some, age-segregated activities may be appropriate, but not for everyone. I worked for 16 years at the American Occupational Therapy Association where the maxim was “purposeful activity.” That is, everyone, whatever their age, capabilities, and interests, seeks activity that is purposeful, however each person subjectively defines it. I found “purpose” in my later years by joining the Peace Corps, then embarking on a part-time post-retirement career as a Spanish interpreter. I’ve also been active on non-profit boards and in human rights work with Amnesty International. I’ve written two memoirs. Shortly, I’ll leave on my annual volunteer trip to Honduras, my former Peace Corps country, to serve as an interpreter and helper for medical brigades from the US. Folks of any age should explore their interests and test their abilities. I no longer jog because it hurts my knees, but I do go out walking. I have a friend who lives in her own home and just celebrated her 104th birthday. Different strokes for different folks.

    • Barbara,

      What a major role model you are. Unfortunately, there is just one of you. But I appreciate your thoughts that are so well given. If it helps just one older woman to “see the light” it’s a major victory! Thank you so much for speaking out!

      Barbara

  4. Rustine Quigley says

    Beautiful! So enlightening. Thank you for sharing your view and knowledge. I always look forward to your stimulating articles.

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