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October 16, 2013

Programs aim to serve needs of younger and older seniors

By Terry Oparka
C & G Staff Writer

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Zumba Gold instructor Debbie Teregan leads the class at the Troy Community Center.

As more and more baby boomers step into the ranks of senior citizens, municipalities are striving to provide activities to serve the wants and needs of this growing segment of the population — and pay for them.

According to U.S. census data from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, the senior population in Oakland County — those 65 and older — jumped 17.9 percent from 2000 to 2010: from 134,959 people to 159,124. This is projected to increase to 305,579 by 2040.

In Macomb County, the number of those older than 65 jumped 11.6 percent from 2000 to 2010 — from 107,651 to 120,180 — and will increase to 228,895 people by 2040.

Baby boomers will contribute significantly to these numbers. For example, a boomer born in 1955 would be age 58 this year and 65 in 2020.

It has been a challenge in some communities for senior centers to design programs and services to serve those older than 50 and those in their 70s, 80s and 90s in light of budget cuts, and in some cases, defunding.

In 2011, voters in the communities of Eastpointe and Roseville approved a 20-year, 1 mill levy to create a recreational authority to provide recreational programs and services for both communities after recreation for seniors was cut due to budget constraints. Mary Grant, executive senior program coordinator, said the programs for seniors currently operate in a location on Common Road in Roseville. The senior portion of the center is open Monday-Friday, and the fitness center is available seven days a week.

“We’ve taken the activities from Roseville and Eastpointe, and offered the best of the both of these,” she said.

The programs most popular with seniors are exercise classes, including Zumba Gold, pickleball, chair yoga, reflexology and massage. The fitness room also gets a lot of use, Grant said. Foot doctor forums and the stroke support groups are popular, as well, she added.

Pickleball is played similarly to racquetball, like tennis played on a smaller court with a different racquet.

The “sit and knit” group and Wii bowling league, which has 12 teams, have also scored hits with seniors, Grant added.

“On average, we serve 100-150 people a day,” she said. The average age of the people who use the center is 72.

“The majority of people are working way longer,” Grant explained.

In Troy, city leaders essentially defunded the Troy Community Center, and the challenge to staff was that the recreation programs for everyone, including seniors, had to be cost-neutral and pay for themselves. The recreation center is open seven days a week.

Carla Vaughn, recreation supervisor for the city of Troy, said that softball and pickleball are attracting younger seniors.

The program in Troy is titled “50 plus” to attract a wider range of those who live and work in Troy to the Troy Community Center for programs.

“Boomers don’t consider themselves seniors,” Vaughn said.

The travel programs are popular — especially the trips to Mackinac Island, Vaughn said. 

Also, document shredding, computer workshops and workshops for Medicare enrollment and health programs prove popular in Troy.

The Older Persons’ Commission in Rochester operates with a $4 million annual budget after Oakland Township, Rochester and Rochester Hills voters approved between a 0.23- and 0.24-mill levy for the center in 2010, which is open weekdays and Saturdays 7 a.m.-3:45 p.m. Residents older than 50 in the three communities may use the center.

Marye Miller, OPC executive director, said parking can be a challenge because so many people, between 700 and 800, use the center every day.

Miller said the younger seniors come to the center to exercise and swim 6:30-9 a.m.

There are various fundraising events held to supplement the millage, according to Miller.

She said computer classes are popular, as many seniors “inherit” computers and cellphone “hand-offs” from family members who are upgrading to newer devices.

“We do a lot of classes in partnership with Crittenton Hospital Medical Center and Oakland University,” she noted.

The health and wellness offerings at the OPC include programs to improve balance, muscle and body strength, and stretching.

Pickleball is popular at the OPC, too, she said.

“A 94-year-old woman comes in at 6:30 a.m. and walks the track,” she noted.

She said seniors come to programs, then stay awhile.

“They go for coffee, chit chat and socialization,” she said.

She said the average age of the users for the morning and evening programs is 62, and the average age is 68 for those activities offered during the day.

She noted that programs aim to provide both physical and mental health.

“I feel it’s a well-rounded program,” she said.