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Queens Chronicle

SENIOR LIVING GUIDE: Spring 2019 Senior centers provide camaraderie

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Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2019 10:30 am

While seniors look to maintain their independence, it is still important for them to remain socially active.

A number of seniors are single and others have families that don’t live nearby. Limited income and perhaps not being able to drive are other influences.

“One of the most important things about seniors getting out is a very large social aspect,” said Hindy Chanales, director of the Young Israel of Forest Hills Senior League. “Even though people might be independent at home and do things on their own, it’s extremely important for them to get out in a social setting. The social atmosphere really does a lot for people’s well-being.”

She said there are misconceptions about senior centers, of which there are many all over Queens, explaining that they are not like nursing homes and that lunch programs, for example, are not only for those with financial needs but are also meant for people to sit with friends and meet new people.

“One thing I always tell my members, which I think is extremely, extremely important for seniors to really absorb is that learning something new and getting out and doing something different ... there’s not much of a difference between learning something when you’re 40 to 60, or 60 to 80, or even 80 and above,” Chanales said.

She recommends working on some art, noting that some seniors who never previously were interested began sculpting really well.

“It keeps your mind sharp, it keeps you creative — even if people who are losing their memory a little bit, they can still benefit from art,” Chanales said.

There are also fitness advantages as Chanales explains there are classes for fall prevention.

“It’s that constant repetition of the same exercises to really help your body build the connections of stopping yourself before you fall or even just regular exercise so you can stay up and around,” she said, adding that many programs are designed to help seniors stay active and independent in their own homes for as long as possible.

Bruce Cunningham, executive director of the Queens Interagency Council on Aging, said the senior centers are a good method of avoiding isolation.

“For a lot of the seniors here in Queens, it’s a way to escape loneliness because they get to be around other seniors,” he said.

Cunningham added, “You don’t have to worry about being alone because there’s always a program or person to share and engage.”

He noted that senior centers are not assisted living facilities and that a lot of seniors want a chance to be useful and help out “but they don’t know where to go.”

Cunningham said while visiting different centers over the years he has noticed the population is primarily female, estimating they make up 75 percent.

“What that says to me are the men at that time were the breadwinners,” he said. “The women stayed at home, cooked the meals, took care of kids. Now the husbands are gone, the woman maybe has some pension but in the meantime rent’s going up, she’s on a fixed income, now she has a problem and she’s not prepared.”

There are mental health benefits too as American Journal of Public Health research found that older women who maintained large social networks reduced their risk of dementia and delayed or prevented cognitive impairment. Women with the larger social networks were 26 percent less likely to develop dementia than those with smaller social networks.

Older adults with a strong social life have reduced stress, longer lifespan, more fitness, reduced risk of depression, less anxiety and greater self-esteem, according to an article from Active Senior Retirement Communities.

There are a wide variety of activities for older adults. The Howard Beach Senior Center, as just one good example, offers bus trips, weekly dances, exercise classes, yoga and shopping trips. There are also less strenuous activities including pool, card games, Wii bowling, crafts, book club, bingo and movie days.

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