Throughout life, meeting friends who turn into family are some of the most fulfilling relationships one can have. That best friend from elementary school, your roommate from college, the next-door neighbor raising kids alongside you. Later in life, the time can come when those family-like friends aren’t there anymore. Sometimes that can be lonely.
For seniors in Lenawee County, their local senior center is a place they can go to meet new people and develop those family-like bonds with others in their region of the county. The directors of the senior centers in Lenawee County recognize the importance of these deep connections between their seniors.
“It’s a family atmosphere,” said Dee Hall, director of the Addison Senior Center. “It’s a smaller center so they’re more like a family. They eat together and they get to play cards together.”
Spending time with other people give these folks the opportunity to speak and be heard, says Heather Barker, director of the Adrian Senior Center. “A common thread in the senior community is that they’re lonely. They’ve lost a spouse, or a partner, or a sister, and they’re really looking for a place to come to enjoy speaking again.”
Studies have shown that seniors who engage with their peers can reduce the risk of developing cognitive disorders such as dementia. In 2008, the American Journal of Public Health published a study of 2,249 older women in California. Researchers reported that those with larger social networks were 26 percent less likely to develop dementia and those with daily contact with family and friends cut their likelihood by half, according to AARP.
The home delivered meals program is a way for seniors who are unable to go out to receive a meal every day to have some interaction with someone from outside of their world. The person who drops off the meal does a well-being check on the senior, which can alleviate some worry for their family members who may not be able to check in on them during the day.
“Our home delivered meals program is so important to our center because when we deliver meals each day, sometimes those are the first and the only people that those seniors see in a day, or even in a week,” said Addison Senior Center Director Hall.
“Home-bound meals help with nutrition issues [seniors face],” said Turi Meining, director of the Hudson Senior Center. “And they provide interaction with the people who deliver the meals. They get to see someone.”
Seniors who stay active are also less likely to develop pathological changes in the brain that could lead to cognitive impairment, according to AARP. The Journal of American Medical Association reported on a clinical study in September 2008 that found that exercise, especially when combined with social interaction, is believed to “stimulate the formation of brain synapses, enhance blood flow to the brain and increase the formation of nerve cells.”
The senior centers in Lenawee County understand the importance of fitness in the lives of seniors. The Adrian Senior Center, located in the old high school of St. Mary’s church, is fortunate to have a full-sized gym for seniors to use.
“The full-sized gym affords us to provide a lot more fitness opportunities,” said Adrian Senior Center Director Barker.
Group fitness classes such as Tai Chi, focuses on coordination and fall-prevention; cardio drumming promises to “release stress, sweat, sing, and enjoy a sense of community, all while exercising;” Zumba Gold, which is a lower impact, “Latin-inspired dance fitness party.” Fitness equipment is always available, for those who prefer more traditional fitness training.
Seniors also tend to have more medical issues than the younger population. Making it to medical appointments that can be critical to their health can pose a problem for seniors that don’t drive. The volunteer transportation program available through the Lenawee Department on Aging (LDA) is a much-needed resource for seniors.
The volunteer transportation program transports Lenawee County seniors to medical appointments both in Lenawee County and outside of it, said Amy Young, transportation coordinator.
“Many of them, especially the dialysis patients, wouldn’t have another way to get to those appointments,” said Young. “You think about medical appointments being really necessary as you get older. A lot of people don’t have drivers’ licenses anymore. We also have a wheelchair van so we can take clients who are in wheelchairs to their medical appointments.”
The programs and services provided by the Lenawee Department on Aging through the county’s seven senior centers are invaluable to the senior population. Socialization to foster friendships to keep them active; healthy meals both on-site at the senior centers and home delivered to provide nutritional assistance; fitness activities to keep seniors active and in shape; and transportation to critical medical appointments are important components of the overall services provided by the LDA and senior centers.