The Valley Breeze asked leaders of seniors’ centers in the region what the main concerns of seniors were and what resources they offered them, as well as other trends they observed. Here are some of their responses:
Mary Lou Moran, Director of Pawtucket Elder Services Division
One of the biggest concerns facing older adults is that COVID-19, and all the complications it has brought, will never go away, Moran said.
“Unfortunately, the elderly have been the hardest hit by the pandemic,” she said. “They suffered the most dramatic loss of life, loss of social connections and loss of health, both mental and physical, due to social isolation.”
The pandemic has also highlighted the technological divide between the elderly population and other age groups, she said.
“There aren’t too many services and programs where a person doesn’t need computer skills and even internet access to register or apply for a particular program or benefit,” Moran said. “The Town of Pawtucket has held immunization clinics at the senior center for easy access and recently, with the high demand for testing, the senior center and public library have served as distribution sites for allotment by the city of home test kits.”
Trying to alleviate social isolation was a big concern from the start, Moran said, and also ensuring that individuals’ access to food, transportation and vital resources was respected. For 16 months, the center has been using its vans to deliver lunch to people in need in the community and has continued to transport people who required transportation services to meet their basic living needs while adhering to all safety guidelines. security.
Staff also helped people with any problems they might have had with public benefits or other health and social service issues, first by phone and as it became safer to meet people face to face. , they have resumed in-person appointments, while following all guidelines.
Pawtucket was also chosen as one of five communities to participate in an intergenerational technology program called Cyber Seniors DigiAGE, which is a joint project between the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences at the University of Rhode Island. and the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging. The goal of the project is to help reduce the digital divide that exists for older people.
To date, nearly 50 older adults from Pawtucket have been paired with a URI student mentor and they’ve received computer training over the phone and eventually through Zoom meetings, Moran said. When it became safe to resume in-person activities, seniors were able to meet directly with their student mentor.
Moran said staff found people were eager to resume physical activity and fitness programs in particular, as well as having safe opportunities to socialize and meet their friends. The most popular classes were a therapeutic coloring class and fitness classes. One of December’s favorite programs was a performance by the Donna Carter Dancers, “and during that hour the attendees were thoroughly entertained and had smiles on their faces,” she said.
Barbara Waterman, Director of Aging Well Inc. at Woonsocket Senior Center
Aging Well Inc is a small, non-profit organization in operation since 1974, providing services to seniors in Northern Rhode Island. Thanks to an agreement with the city of Woonsocket, it operates from and manages the Gaston Ayotte Senior Center. Aging Well Inc. offers an Adult Day Program, the Northern Rhode Island Group Meals Program, a robust wellness program with two RNs on staff, a Community Information Specialist on staff, and a Meals on Wheels program for the northern part of the state.
“While Aging Well Inc. has remained open for services throughout COVID, a number of services have had to be reformatted to comply with CDC and DOH guidelines,” Waterman said.
As of March 2020, in-house programming was no longer possible but classes, such as exercise, dancing, cooking, etc., were offered via Zoom and YouTube.
“Unfortunately, not everyone had the opportunity to access these programs from the start, but Aging Well became part of the DigiAGE project in 2021 and as such distributed 59 iPads and provided education and training. training Woonsocket seniors so they are well equipped to ‘stay connected’, she said.
Throughout COVID, Aging Well has been able to stay in touch with its members by distributing information via robocall, helping seniors sign up for vaccines, and serving as a resource by fielding numerous calls from people at the seeking information and guidance on how best to address their concerns.
Food insecurity was a problem for some, Waterman said, especially at first because many were afraid to go to grocery stores and often when they did, finding many empty shelves in stores.
Throughout COVID, Aging Well has provided “Grab and Go” lunches and distributed food to many seniors in need, Waterman said.
“It should be noted that Aging Well, through a partnership with BVCAP, has been able to continue delivering meals on wheels to homebound residents in Northern Rhode Island throughout COVID, she said. Last June, Aging Well was able to offer, in accordance with CDC and RIDOH guidelines, in-house programs such as dance and exercise classes and with mindfulness and meditation and aging classes with grace and gratitude, she said. They were finally able to offer choices of hot lunches, cold lunches, and take-out lunches.
One of the biggest concerns for seniors is the need to protect themselves so that the senior center can/stay open. A number of seniors have expressed how lonely and isolated they felt when we were not open to in-house programs and as a result they very much appreciate all the safety measures we have put in place to maintain a safe environment. sure.
Mike Crawley, director of the Cumberland Senior Center
The biggest issue facing local seniors is social isolation, Crawley said.
“In Cumberland, we try to bring them back to the senior center on a regular basis,” he said. “We were starting to get back to a bit of a normal routine when Omicron came along.”
The center still offers all exercise programs, with 12 different classes each week. It started again with BINGO on Friday, as well as day trips and the nutritional hot lunch/meal program.
The center offers other programs including a conversation group, watercolor class, knitting and crochet group, hi lo jack, and the pool table is always open.
They also help with veterans services, health insurance, housing, legal information, heating assistance, and notary services, all of which require an appointment.
“We try to offer as much as we can to get our seniors out of their homes/apartments,” Crawley said. “We provide transportation to the center.
Linda Giorgio, director of the North Providence Mancini Center
When the North Providence Mancini Center reopened last June, it put in place strict COVID policies for the health and safety of seniors, and these are still in place.
“Our goal is to provide seniors with more opportunities to lead healthy lives by offering different levels of wellness and fitness classes, use of our fitness center and the ability to participate in sports leagues. maps, art classes and informational presentations,” said Giorgio. “Socialization is an important part of a healthy life.”
Here are some of the questions Giorgio hears from seniors and their families:
• How long do we have to wear a mask? (Most don’t wear them right, she says)
• Will we need a booster shot every year?
The center receives a high volume of calls from senior families requesting in-home assistance for their aging parents. The process can take up to six months if qualified by the Rhode Island Department of Social Services, she said. If the senior does not qualify under state income guidelines, the out-of-pocket expenses of a private agency may well exceed what most families can afford.
“It’s a concern because more and more older people want to stay in their homes,” she said.
The Mancini Center helped more seniors in 2021 with food assistance and SNAP requests than in total in the past three years.
“With food cost inflation, many seniors rely on the senior center for a nutritious meal,” she said. “We continue to deliver meals to housebound seniors who choose to stay home for safety reasons and provide a daily packed lunch for those who drive.
Fitness and wellness classes are hugely popular, and we’re seeing many older people who have never been in fitness now participating in various classes, Giorgio said.
The center is seeing more seniors from other cities and towns join North Providence. We also note the membership of young seniors (70 to 75 years old). Today’s active seniors are redefining quality of life and healthy aging. Many have just retired and want to continue to stay active. The center is holding all of its wellness classes in the dining hall to safely socially distance each six-foot member. Seniors are asked to continue to follow our COVID policies and have noticed how safe they feel when participating in our programs and classes.
There are no definite plans yet to bring back special events, as they draw 250 seniors to the Mancini Center at any one time.
“We usually have to turn away seniors who register late because we are already at full capacity,” Giorgio said. “That said, health and safety is our top priority at this time.”
She added, “We will continue to follow directions from Governor McKee, the CDC and the City of North Providence administration. Seniors want to have fun again and demand parties, BINGO and trips. We hope they will all be back in 2022.”