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As Boomers Age, Senior Centers are Getting a Total Makeover

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There’s no doubt about it – the baby boomers have left their mark on American culture for decades. Now as they age, with the advance cohort just over 70, baby boomers are helping stimulate yet another surprising change in our society: they’re causing a huge transformation in senior centers around the nation.

That’s the interesting revelation in this article we found last fall on the New York Times website. According to the article, there are roughly 11,500 senior centers in the U.S., and many of them are completely changing and updating themselves, from their facilities to the services they offer to the names they bear.  No more bingo, says the Times – bring on the senior speed-dating, wine-tasting and sushi-making classes. To appeal to baby boomers, it appears, a total makeover is required!

For decades, senior centers – some privately owned and some operated by the communities where they’re located – have provided a social and recreational outlet for older adults who might otherwise not have a place where they feel they belong. But in recent years, says the New York Times, Americans have begun to display a growing tendency to isolate themselves, in the process losing a sense of community and suffering a decline in health and happiness. This isolation is especially hard on seniors: recent research has linked loneliness among the elderly to a host of problems including depression, even dementia. One solution to get seniors involved is to re-cast the traditional “senior center” into a more modern, less old-fashioned model, and make it the kind of place aging boomers will seek out.

There are several examples of this kind of fresh thinking cited in the Times article. One is in Chicago, called Mather’s “More Than a Café.” It was launched in 2000 after the publication of the best-seller Bowling Alone in which author Robert Putnam described an American society that prefers solitary living to the kind of “joiner” mentality of earlier generations. Mather’s now operates three Chicago locations.   According to the Times, “the Chicago café, which could easily be mistaken for a large Starbucks, is much more than that.”  Mather’s serves “as a community hub, mostly for older people, with dozens of classes on topics like flower arranging, Egyptian history and digital safety.”  Best of all, say those who are part of the Mather’s community, the café offers participants “a caring group of neighbors who serve as a kind of substitute family.” The word is spreading: people from other cities are coming to Chicago to learn from Mather’s, and more than 40 similar cafés have been launched with more on the way.

The transformation of senior centers into something brand new is going on outside as well as inside. “Many centers are also shedding their names so that they can evolve beyond being seen as just places to play bingo,” the Times writes. For example, one center in Minnesota is now called “125 Live,” and they’ve moved into “a sleek, modernistic building with a teaching kitchen, big lap pool, pottery studio and a gym.” Other centers feature yoga, Pilates and Zumba classes — and a motorcycle club. “We have to move away from hot meals and bingo,” says Jim Firman, the chief executive of the National Council on Aging, quoted by the New York Times. “So there’s a lot of exciting innovation going on. The laggards will catch up or go away.”

According to Firman, the chief goal is “to transform the typical senior center into more of a longevity hub.” He says the current state of senior recreation is like a revolution caused by aging baby boomers.  “We’re developing richer programming,” he says. “We’re given the gift of longevity, so we have to spend it wisely.”

We here at AgingOptions applaud that philosophy. As far as we’re concerned, retirement planning is all about living – making the right decisions today so you can enjoy your aging years to the full. In order to help you do that, we’ll work with you to create a retirement plan that protects your assets, prevents you from becoming a burden to your loved ones, and ensures that you will not have to face moving into an institution against your wishes. We call this type of plan a LifePlan, because it covers all the important aspects of life in retirement – your financial security, your legal affairs, your housing choices, your medical insurance needs, and the best ways to communicate with your family so they will support your desires.

How do you begin the LifePlanning process? The first step is a simple one: register for a free, no-obligation LifePlanning Seminar, an information-packed session where many of your retirement questions will be answered. You can click here for dates, times and locations, and register online for the seminar of your choice, or contact us during the week and we’ll be happy to assist you. Then with your LifePlan in place, you can enjoy all that life has to offer, with a greater sense of confidence and security than you thought possible! We’ll see you at a seminar soon.

(originally reported at

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