Sunday, June 1, 2014

Underappreciated Senior Centers Offer Valuable Services

In 1965 Congress enacted the Older Americans Act (OAA) to support community social services for older persons. The OAA established the Administration on Aging and state aging agencies in each state. As a result, each community in Pennsylvania is now served by a local area agency on aging (AAA).  
Title III of the OAA provides state and community grants for many different social service programs. These include meals, health promotion, caregiver support, and senior centers. The programs are an investment in the health and independence of seniors and are intended to help older adults remain in their homes and communities for as long as possible.  
Title III grants are provided to state agencies on aging like Pennsylvania’s Department of Aging and to local AAAs. Pennsylvania has 52 AAA service areas that cover all 67 counties. These agencies are charged with coordinating social service programs for older people such as nutrition services, family caregiver support, and disease prevention and health promotion activities.
Title III funding is designed to provide “seed money” for programs which states supplement with other funding sources. In Pennsylvania, lottery and slots revenues fund senior support programs such as prescription drugs, rent and tax rebates and “meals on wheels.” 
Title III programs are provided at multipurpose senior centers, senior high-rises, retirement communities and other appropriate locations throughout the state.

Senior Centers

In 1972, the OAA was amended to provide funding for senior centers. Currently, 356 Pennsylvania senior centers receive funding through the OAA. Senior centers also receive financial support from other sources, such as local organizations, private grants, and local municipalities.
Meals are the core service at many senior centers. But senior centers provide an entry and delivery point for a wide array of programs and services that help older adults “age in place.” Services commonly offered at senior centers include: 
  • Health and wellness programs
  • Arts and humanities activities
  • Intergenerational programs
  • Employment assistance
  • Community action opportunities and social networking opportunities
  • Transportation services
  • Volunteer opportunities
  • Educational opportunities Information and referral
  • Financial assistance
  • Senior rights counseling and legal services
  • Meal and nutrition programs
  • Leisure travel programs

Title III-D Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Services

A senior center may serve as a delivery point for the Pennsylvania Prime Time Health Program which focuses on health promotion and disease prevention. Prime Time Health is funded under Title III-D of the OAA which was added to the law in 1987. Title III-D provides grants for education and implementation activities that support healthy lifestyles and promote healthy behaviors. [See: Administration on Aging: Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Services (OAA Title IIID)]. 
The hope is that by helping seniors prevent and manage chronic diseases and follow healthier lifestyles Title III-D grants will improve quality of life for the older adult and reduce health and personal care costs.
Many program options are available under Title III-D, including fall prevention, chronic condition management, health screenings, exercise and more. Each AAA is responsible for the delivery of at least some of these Prime Time Health Program services in its local area.
In Pennsylvania, special attention is being given to fall prevention. With good reason. Falls are a leading cause of death and disability of individuals who are over age 65. I’ve recently written about one program, Healthy Steps Program Reduces Falls in Older Adults, which is widely available at senior centers. Additional information about that program is available here.
Another Prime Time Health program, Healthy Steps in Motion Exercise for Strength and Balance provides exercise/strengthening and balance improvement. For more information on Healthy Steps in Motion, click here.
A Chronic Disease Self-Management program, (offered in partnership with Stanford University) helps individuals learn methods to better manage chronic disease such as diabetes, heart disease, emphysema, or hypertension. For more information on the Chronic Disease Self-Management programs, click here.
These wonderful free programs are available to Pennsylvanians who over the age of 50. They can enhance quality of life and keep older adults healthy and living in their communities.  

My Two Cents

For decades Pennsylvania senior centers have responded to the needs of older adults. For thousands of seniors they are a primary source for socialization, recreation, meals, and connection with the community.
They serve a varied population that ranges from the frail elderly to the influx of baby boomers now entering their young/old years. The very diversity of the population to be served raises significant challenges. (Some senior centers have been renamed “Active Adult Centers” and seek to attract boomers with Zumba exercise and salad bars. See: ‘Active adult centers’ part of new strategy, July 15, 2013,
But only a small proportion of seniors take advantage of the wide variety of services available at senior centers and other program delivery locations. While it is generally agreed that centers need to modernize, expand services and increase utilization, funding to strengthen them is always in short supply.
I think one relatively easy and low cost method of modernization and increasing utilization would be to raise the internet presence of senior centers and the programs they offer.  
More and more older adults are using the internet. Pew Research reports that a majority of seniors are now online. But many senior centers are not. It can be difficult to find information about the availability of programs. And programs can’t help people who are unaware of them.
So, I would like to see Pennsylvania’s local AAAs establish websites or Facebook pages that provide an updated list the programs available at each of their area senior centers and other program delivery sites. That’s my two-cents.  
For a list of all Pennsylvania senior centers - click here or contact your local area agency on aging for information on the centers in your neighborhood.

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