Senior Programming Adapts to Active, Creative Adults
Sorry, students, but “senior programming” at Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation isn’t for soon-to-be grads, and it’s far from knitting and canasta. Programs, classes, and courses for folks over 55 are as varied and active as the grown-ups asking for them.
“The population of active adults is just going up,” said Al Bangoura, Recreation Superintendent for Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation. “Providing programming that meets their needs and things they want to do is critical to what we do here at Park and Rec.”
Bangoura is quick to point out that programming goes way beyond providing a place for seniors to sit and play cards. Seniors and adults over 55 want “active” programming, learning, volunteer opportunities, and service hours, he said.
“We’re paying attention to what they want,” he added, and what they’re really asking for reflects the needs of a community that’s shifting.”
And that shift means providing thoughtful and well-researched programming, from classes on “extreme couponing,” social media, and online safety, to cooking, group exercise, and the hundreds of activities enveloped within the Senior Games.
“It’s really a lot,” said supervisor for senior services, Trena Palmer. “From things to get people going physically and mentally, to writing, photography, and other activities that many people didn’t have time to do when they were younger or working… and now they do!”
Palmer said Park and Recreation’s well-rounded programming focuses on the physical well-being of the participants, as well as activities that are mentally stimulating. Programming that challenges short term memory, recall, and analytics, or learning a new language or new cross-body movement, she said, helps build new connections in the brain. Put that all together and you can build a better body and brain.
“What’s good for the heart is good for the brain,” said Jeffrey Browndyke, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Geriatric Behavioral Health, Duke University Medical Center.
“Peer-reviewed scientific studies have consistently supported the contention that regular aerobic exercise not only has clear benefits to cardiovascular function, but also improved cerebral perfusion and possible neurogenesis effects in brain regions important to learning and memory. These two latter benefits have been posited as potential factors in one’s ability to reduce risk for or delay the onset of dementia,” added Browndyke.
Along with the mentally and physically stimulating activities, Park and Recreation senior programming provides information and classwork that Palmer said seniors not only want, but truly need. Programming includes seminars on how to choose a home care for a relative, recognizing and avoiding scams, advanced medical directives and living wills, to sessions on veterans and other insurance benefits.
“You’d be surprised how many people don’t know about these benefits and how to take advantage of them,” added Palmer. “We’re actually running classes for those coming to age of 65 for folks to understand the language of Medicare.”
Other sessions have included tips on modifying your home to make it safer in older years, retirement budgeting to get the most for your money, and how to take advantage of online coupons. A group of retired IT guys that calls itself the “golden geeks” has provided technology Q and A sessions at Senior Centers, too.
Right now, three dedicated Senior Centers and 13 recreation centers provide literally hundreds of hours of senior programming per week for Mecklenburg County residents. The simplest way to find out what’s available is to visit Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation’s Senior Center web page for locations, hours, and phone numbers, searching the EParks2.0 listing of activities, or by calling to request a paper calendar of activities at the Senior Center or recreation center nearest you.