August 26, 2010

USA: Can Someone Say Who Is OLD?

TRAVERSE CITY, Michigan / Record Eagle / Life / August 26, 2010

Senior Focus: Seniors Center not for 'old' people

By Kathleen Bellaw Gest
Local Columnist

It is hard to define exactly what a senior is these days. The characterization has changed so drastically since our grandparents' day.

The term "senior citizen" apparently was coined in 1938 during a political campaign. It was used as a courtesy title to signify continuing relevance of and respect for the population group of society that was of "senior" rank. It has come into widespread use in recent decades in legislation, commerce and universal speech.

The age that qualifies someone for senior-citizen status varies widely. In a governmental context, it usually means the age when pensions or medical benefits become available. In a commercial context, where it may serve as a marketing tool to attract customers, the age is often significantly lower.

The dictionary defines a senior as someone of higher or the highest rank or standing (sounds good to me), and senior citizen as an "elderly" or aged person (not so good).

In the dictionary, elder is defined as superior to others, either by rank or experience (I like that), but when you add the "ly" to make "elderly," the actual dictionary definition is: quite old; past middle age and approaching the rest of life — sometimes considered offensive.

I'm one of many that object to the insinuation that past middle age is old. Who wants to be considered "elderly" when you are still active, fit and young at heart. I know 80-year-olds who don't feel or act "elderly."

A friend, Alice Shirley, commented recently that tightening the circle of aging — by becoming narrower minded, limiting your friendships, stopping the stimulation of your mind and decreasing your physical activity — can lead to being "old" before your time.

Now, we're coming to the reason for this day's column. For some individuals, a senior center evokes images of tottering "old" people. I can't tell you how many times I have heard, "I'm not th-a-at old yet!" or "Why do I need to go to a senior center — I'm still active" or "You only go to the senior center as a last resort."

About Participating in A Senior Center

What is unfortunate is that this unfavorable image, like most uninformed assumptions, is far from accurate about the Traverse City Senior Center.

For many people, participating at a senior center is not hindered by being "older." They reap the benefits of participation and the benefits are significant — social and entertaining activities; health, fitness and wellness programs; sports; volunteerism; educational classes; and travel opportunities and access to government and community programs, to name just a few.

"How, I like to think, people benefit from the Senior Center is one of the slogans we used for awhile, 'Personal growth … by design,'" said Lori Wells, director. "I see the Senior Center as a way to grow in different ways and we design those ways to grow. So, whether individuals become volunteers, sharing a talent they already have with others … or they grow by learning a new skill, they are keeping their mind alive and relevant. No matter what age you are, you're never too old to stop growing. In addition, they also grow by making new connections and friendships."

A new study, extracting data from a range of studies that measured social connection and lifespan, had startling results. Someone who has a poor social network — for example, someone who lives alone and has few or no close friends, doesn't take part in social or sporting activities — is twice as likely to die within any given time period, compared to people with a good social network.

The stronger your links with others, the longer you are likely to live.

By participating in your senior center, social isolation is not an issue. Whether it's a social, recreational or fun event, a physical wellness setting, traveling to new areas or a mental, mind-building activity, there are plenty of opportunities in a good senior center setting to socialize and to grow.

Finally, Wells feels that current members should remember what it was like to be that new person and come to the Senior Center for the first time. Current members are encouraged to welcome new people, to help introduce them around, show them the ropes and to be kind, thoughtful and supportive — most important is greeting anyone new with a smile. The reverse is also true. New members should extend themselves by letting people at the Senior Center know that this is their first day.

Additional activities and programs are added frequently. Those who may have used the Senior Center in the past may find new friends and new events to interest them in the present.

Putting it all in perspective: Getting older is inevitable. Deal with getting older with enthusiasm, respect, boldness and pride. Tap a source that does something good for you — connect with, participate in and enjoy your senior center.

Traverse City Senior Center

                         On the beach at Senior Center - The Place to: Have Fun with Friends!
                                                        Photo from

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