Family Caregiver Blog

Not Just for Mom: New Senior Centers

By Sally Abrahms

The next time you take your father or mother-in-law to your local senior center, you may want to hang out there, too—seriously. There are still traditional senior centers where mostly lunch, blood screenings and bingo are served up.

But increasingly, you will find offerings that aren’t exactly on that standard menu. How about motorcycle clubs (truly!), resume writing, sushi making, belly dancing, speed dating, meditation, sexuality talks, wine tastings, foreign language lessons, playwriting, Zumba, and wellness coaches? The Iowa City/Johnson County Senior Center in Iowa City, Iowa, even has its own TV studio!

Why these hip activities and events, along with the more typical fare for those in their 80s and beyond? Of course, many older adults want more stimulating and fun fare.

But the changes in many senior centers are driven by demographics. The centers are trying to attract new blood, as in baby boomers. This group, the oldest of whom turn 70 this year, make up more than two-thirds of the 50+ population. And here’s a ca-ching statistic: 10,000 boomers a day are turning 65. That’s a lot of potential customers. (According to the National Council on Aging, the average age of a senior center participant is 75.)

New Names for Senior Centers

To attract boomers, some centers have changed their name or sound very un-seniorish. Mather’s—More Than a Café is a street side café open to the public for breakfast and lunch in three locations in Chicago. But, inside are classes and activities for those age 50+. Yes, there is chair massage and blood sugar screenings, but add to that fitness classes, live entertainment, jewelry making, past and current history talks, a car care clinic with a mechanic, an arts wellness weekend and more.

The Rochester Senior Center in Minnesota is morphing into “125 Live” and moving to a new location. It will have a test kitchen for cooking classes and a bike-sharing program. The Ellicott City 50+ Center near Baltimore used to be the Ellicott City Senior Center; it sports a new fitness center. The Lakeville Senior Center in Lakeville, Minnesota, is now . (They’re the ones with the motorcycle club. One of the regular female riders discovered it when she took her mother to the Center!)

A Push Toward Wellness

Physical and social connectedness (as opposed to being sedentary and isolated) are among the keys to healthy aging and well being. That is why there is an increasing emphasis on fitness amenities, and why, in a senior center you may find an athletic trainer.

The Summit in Grand Prairie, Texas, thinks of itself as a cross between a gleaming, state-of-the-art fitness center, a community center and a country club. City residents pay $205/yr at ages 50-64 and $55/yr for age 65+, with a higher fee for non-residents. Live outdoor music events are often open to the public and there’s a 100-seat movie theatre. Members attend dances and events in the theatre, tinker on the player piano or head to the cappuccino and wine bar.

And if you’re looking for a special place to have a big party for Mom or, yes, even you, you may have found a new venue. You guessed it. Many non-senior, senior centers also rent out their space for private events.

Is there a senior center in your area? If so, what does it offer? Does that surprise you?