They’re still trying to bridge the original Generation Gap.
What started as a “Don’t trust anyone over 30” outlook among Baby Boomers in their youth, has turned into a different approach to aging — with senior centers working to provide programs and services to two generations of elders.
“It’s a huge problem,” said Barbara Garvey, Whitman’s Council on Aging Director. “We’re trying to capture the Baby Boomers, the young seniors.”
Both Garvey and Hanson Multi-Service Senior Center Director Mary Collins noted the difference in the way Boomers approach aging — and, according to statistics, 10,000 of them have been turning 65 every day since 2011.
“They’re working, they’re caring for their grandchildren, they’re playing golf,” Garvey said. “It’s a different lifestyle than their parents led.”
She said it appears that Boomers view senior centers as a place “for very old people, and that’s not them.”
Collins said her Friends of the Senior Center group is taking a step to help bridge that gap, planning a 7 p.m., Saturday, Aug. 27 “Mocktails and Music” event with Laura James, a former member of The Platters.
“The Friends decided to reach out to the Baby Boomers … those folks who grew up in the ’50s and ’60s,” Collins said. “She performs music from the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s with a little bit of disco at the end.”
The performance is also a fundraiser for the Friends with tickets priced at $10.
Garvey sees the need to keep pace with generational change as well.
“We’re trying to change our programming so that it will interest younger people,” Garvey said, noting that a recent evening program on Medicare aimed at people approaching retirement was very well attended, including those who had not been at the center before.
“We haven’t been open in the evening, but I’m thinking about maybe rearranging hours so that folks that aren’t available during the day would be able to participate and benefit,” Garvey said.
Aside from a social outlet, senior centers connect older adults to services that can help them stay healthy and independent, and according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), more than 60 percent of centers are focal points for services through the Older Americans Act. Those services include health, fitness and wellness programs; public benefits counseling; information and nutrition programs among others.
“We are a referral source for elders in the town, but also for families that are looking for different assistance,” Collins said, noting it may be time to stress the multi-service portion of her facility’s title.
“The age spans a wide variety from those who are able to retire at 65 to those who are continuing to work — whether it be full time or part time — and at some point we have to look at the fact that our programs need to reflect what someone in their late 60s or 70s needs,” she said.
At the same time, the needs of those in their 80s and 90s cannot be ignored. And, in Hanson, the Adult Day Program sees to the needs of those with elders with health problems, including various forms of dementia.
“That’s the line that we walk,” Collins said. “It’s very individualized.”
While the standards by singers such as Tony Bennett are always heard on the center’s stereo, the Boomer favorites featured in the Aug. 27 program are symbolic of “where we’re heading,” Collins noted.
Garvey said events such as paint nights and the possible development of a bocce court are being considered at her center, and Whitman is one of the first towns in the area to offer pickleball, which lost some of its participants when the Abington Senior Center built three new pickleball courts. An Eagle Scout candidate, however, is continuing a project to improve the Whitman pickleball courts adjacent to the Police Station.
I see bingo attendance declining,” she said, but new games being offered have begun to draw interest. “Craft classes are well attended, I’m just trying to hone in on what’s successful and what’s not.”
A questionnaire about programs people would like to see is in the works. Every resident 60 and over also receives the Whitman Council on Aging newsletter.
Collins said she is fortunate to have a group, who have either attended programs or volunteer at the center, and are in the beginning of their retirement.
“I spend a lot of time looking for feedback from them as to what their interests might be,” she said.
According to the NCA, 70 percent of senior center participants are women, half of those live alone. They also have higher levels of health, social interaction and life satisfaction, but have lower levels of income. Their average age is 75 and they visit their center one to three times per week for an average of 3.3 hours per visit.
“I have ladies who say, ‘I’m glad to come here, but you’ll never see my husband because he doesn’t consider himself a senior,’” Collins said. “We don’t change that much as we age.”
Hanson has long featured a Cracker Barrel Men’s Club, the members of which gather Thursday mornings to talk about sports or the events of the day, whether or not they go to the center on other days.
“Ultimately, it’s not about them attending programs, it’s about them knowing people are here to help them,” Collins said.