An old couple using virtual reality glasses
An old couple using virtual reality glasses
An old couple using virtual reality glasses

Finding a New Center

Welcome to the new senior centers (sometimes known as “active adult centers”), gathering places that have been reborn as thriving social hubs. Some centers boast a cultural bent, featuring museum trips, book clubs, piano concerts and film screenings. Others have crazy hat days, poker tournaments, and Super Bowl parties. There is an ever-widening range of options among the nation’s 11,000 centers. 

But beyond being fun places to hang out, these centers greatly improve seniors’ emotional and physical health by bringing structure and social interaction to their days, says Johns Hopkins expert Deirdre Johnston, M.B., B.Ch., B.A.O., M.R.C.Psych.

“Centers welcome healthy seniors but may also have programs that serve those at different levels of physical mobility and across stages of illnesses such as Alzheimer’s,” says Johnston.

Here are some health benefits for those who visit community senior centers.

Finding like-minded friends.

Many folks feel awkward at first, but after a few weeks, they look forward to going and seeing friends and joining in on the fun, Johnston says. And that’s key because many studies have shown how beneficial social interaction is to mental and even physical health.

Enjoying exercise.

Centers now boast all kinds of physical activities, from garden walks, tai chi and yoga to swimming, ballroom dancing and Zumba in your chair. Even little bits of activity can help boost mobility and self-esteem, Johnston says.

Learning about new gadgets and trends.

Some centers encourage seniors to try a hand at computer classes, compete in a Wii video game tournament, or chat with faraway friends or grandchildren via Skype. Other centers hold food tastings or display work from local artists. “The best programs try hard to tailor their activities to suit members’ interests,” Johnston says.

Engaging in community service.

From going into classrooms to share history to tending community gardens, some centers give seniors opportunities to give back. And while volunteering time can improve the community at large, it can also boost personal health. A good amount of research has found physical, mental and emotional benefits associated with doing good.

Interested in finding a senior center near you? Ask a health care provider or your local hospital for recommendations, or call 800-677-1116 to connect with your local Area Agency on Aging (AAA). If you need transportation to a center, AAA may even be able to help you locate options such as a Shared Ride program.

Research Shows Centers are Powerful for Seniors with Special Health Needs

The benefits are especially clear for those who attend adult day centers—facilities that provide social opportunities as well as care services for those who can no longer manage independently. One study found that after 12 months, physical health scores of those who attended such programs rose by over 50 percent, while the scores of a comparison group who did not attend declined by almost a third. Likewise, attendees’ emotional health scores rose by 13 percent, while those of seniors who did not attend declined by 25 percent.

“Day centers also allow caregivers time for themselves—which is especially helpful,” says Johnston. Caregivers can hold jobs, tend to their immediate families and simply enjoy some respite—a critical factor that helps keep loved ones in need of care at home longer and protects caregivers’ own health. For help finding a center to match special needs, try using National Adult Day Services Association’s searchable database:

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