Aging In Place

12/20/2023 | By Terri L. Jones

There’s a stigma surrounding senior centers. When most people think of them, they imagine old people playing sedate games like bingo and shuffleboard and talking about their aches and pains. That may have been the case back in our grandparents’ and even our parents’ day; however, today’s senior centers are fun, vibrant places where you can participate in activities like jewelry making and pickleball, find employment assistance and intergenerational programming, and share meals, conversation, and maybe a game of cards with friends close to your own age.

While the purpose of senior centers is to help older adults remain active and engaged, especially those who are aging in place, there’s so much more to know about them. Below we share a few more facts about senior centers that just might change your mind about visiting one:

Today’s senior centers

The numbers

U.S. senior centers serve more than 1 million older adults every day. Seventy-five percent of those people visit their local center one to three times per week and spend on average 3.3 hours each time they visit.

The age

Despite the name, senior centers aren’t just for people over 65. Many senior centers are open to anyone over 50.

The programs

seniors at center centers may play games, like this one where they have to guess what's written on the post-it note on their forehead

Most senior centers offer a variety of programming – fitness and health programs like Tai Chi and dance, to trips, special events, and lifelong learning. One senior center in Iowa has a television studio, producing shows on nature, politics, and community life. Another in Wisconsin hosts a competitive Wii bowling tournament. Often the programs are tailored to the interests of the community where the center is located, like line dancing in Baltimore or transportation to a farmer’s market in LA.

The benefits

There’s no doubt that senior centers can be entertaining and engaging, but that’s hardly the only draw for these gathering places. These centers have also been shown to help seniors achieve “higher levels of health, social interaction, and overall life satisfaction,” according to WebMD. Participating in senior center programs can help improve older adults’ psychological well-being as well by offering them more supportive friendships and lowering stress levels and depression. This community involvement also prevents isolation and fosters purpose, which can be a huge benefit to mental health.

The audience

Senior centers don’t only cater to those who are able to visit them in-person; many also have programs to reach seniors who are isolated at home. Some centers call homebound seniors on a regular basis, while others send volunteers into the community to visit them. For example, one senior center uses high school volunteers to visit visually impaired seniors, help them with shopping, and take them to appointments.

The options

Here are some of the resources you can find at most senior centers:

  • Information and assistance
  • Meal and nutrition programs
  • Health, fitness, and wellness programs
  • Transportation services
  • Public benefits counseling
  • Employment assistance
  • Volunteer and civic engagement opportunities
  • Social and recreational activities
  • Educational and arts programs

The cost

Most senior centers are funded by federal, state, local, and private funds, but they may also charge a nominal membership fee, typically well under $100 per year.

The image

According to the National Council on Aging, senior centers are trying to shed the dusty, dated identity of the past and develop a new, updated image for the dynamic generations they are and will be serving (Generation X starts turning 60 in 2025!). To match this more contemporary vibe, many centers are also rebranding with new names, like Thrive 55+ in Groton, Connecticut, and Center for Active Living in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

For you or a loved one, find a senior center near you and dive in!

Terri L. Jones

Terri L. Jones has been writing educational and informative topics for the senior industry for over 10 years, and is a frequent and longtime contributor to Seniors Guide.

Terri Jones