Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

June 21, 2011

USA: Senior centers find it tough to draw visitors, even as oldest boomers turn 65

STERLING, Illinois / / June 21, 2011

AKRON, Ohio - Don’t call them “old.” Don’t call them “seniors.” And heaven help anyone who calls them “elderly.” The oldest of the baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, turn 65 this year. But you won’t find them in many senior centers. Most think they are far too young to be old. In Stark County, Ohio, for instance, the Lake Senior Center, also known as the Lake Adult Community Center, is closing on Sept. 30 because of funding problems – and lack of participation.“It’s just like a church that dies because there are no new members coming in,” said Christine Thompson, a volunteer at the center.

Rosemary Kehner of Randolph enjoys the company and conversation as she and a group of senior citizens play euchre at the Lake Adult Community Center on June 10 in Uniontown, Ohio. The center is closing in September because of funding issues and a lack of participation. (MCT News)

Sometimes called the Me Generation, the now 47- to 65-year-olds grew up in a time of sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll. Older boomers burned their bras, protested and grew their hair long. They’ve been blamed for all kinds of social ills, including an increased divorce rate.

Thousands died in the Vietnam War, and they pushed the country forward by demanding equal rights for women and minorities and lobbying for cleaner air and water. Now, some worry that with 80 million boomers in the United States retiring at the rate of 300 an hour, the strain will be too much for Social Security. And socially, they are redefining old age.

“How many 55-year-olds do you look at and say, ‘They are old’?” asked Thompson, 47. “Most are not like our parents, who worked in the fields and factories and were physically abused (by their jobs). “A lot of baby boomers do things like bleach their teeth, dye their hair and wear acrylic nails. Of those who have held white-collar jobs, you can’t tell their age – and never will.”

According to a 2009 Pew Research survey, the typical boomer believes old age doesn’t begin until 72. And when asked whether today’s 65-year-olds are the same as 65-year-olds from a couple of decades ago, Inese Alvarez, director of the Akron-based Retired & Senior Volunteer Program, emitted a long sigh.

“No, they are different,” said Alvarez, 59. “We’ve grown up with youth, health and fitness. The older folks didn’t grow up with health clubs.”

In Springfield Township, Ohio, Bobby Dinkins, director of the community’s Boyd Esler Senior/Community Center, said the word “community” was added to attract more people.

“Senior centers are traditionally looked at as a social gathering place, a place to meet with friends on a weekly basis. Activities tend to be passive in nature. Playing cards, bingo, ceramics, board games. ... That’s what senior centers have traditionally offered. Today’s seniors want to be more active. Also, people are working longer and have less time, so they don’t have as much time to spend at the center.”

As a result, Dinkins said, the center is offering programming like ballroom dance lessons, Zumba classes and something that’s certain to make boomers feel like kids again: “We’re waiting on funding to be finalized, but we’ve been awarded a grant to establish a senior playground at our lakefront park.”

Alvarez is quick to boast about the older adults she works with who volunteer in Akron and surrounding communities.

“The average age is something like 74 or 75 and they are busier than anyone I know,” she said. “I also have the challenge of recruiting 55- to 64-year-olds.”

But there may be some good news for Alvarez. According to a study conducted for Merrill Lynch by Harris Interactive, there has been a transformation of the Me Generation into the “We” Generation.

The boomer generation “has grown up – now with deep concerns for the well-being of their children, their parents and their communities,” the study reads. Ten times more respondents to the survey said they put others first as opposed to putting themselves first.

Dinkins, 45, doesn’t think baby boomers are in denial that they are getting old; rather they’re looking at it as a challenge. And that’s all fine and good – as long as you don’t call them “seniors.”

Copyright © 2011 Sauk Valley Media