September is National Senior Center Month and, for the first time since 2019, it actually feels true.
Contrary to popular assumption, Salt Lake County senior centers are not drab places filled with beds where older people go for care when they can no longer live alone. No, senior centers are active community centers for adults over age 60 that offer evidence-based programs on health and well-being, exercise classes, social activities, competitions, daily lunches and a wealth of opportunities for older adults to thrive and remain engaged as they age.
There are no fees at senior centers – they are funded by a mix of federal, state and county tax dollars, and suggested participant donations – and with 15 county-operated and three city-run centers in our community, there is almost certainly one in your neighborhood.
If not? No problem. Throughout the past two years, our staff have developed new ways to serve our clients, including a curbside meal program during the pandemic and Wellness Calls to isolated older adults that continue today.
Perhaps most exciting has been the Virtual Senior Center, which enables older adults to participate in activities from the comfort of home – an innovation for which Salt Lake County Aging & Adult Services has been nationally recognized.
Senior centers are integral parts of communities, both within Salt Lake County and across the state of Utah. They are a critical entry-point on the continuum of care that Salt Lake County and our partners offer to older adults. They’re where older adults learn about the services that Salt Lake County and others offer when the time comes that they do need long-term care, or home-delivered meals, or caregiver support, or in-home services. They’re also a critical component of combating social isolation among older people – a common problem that can have devastating health consequences on those who experience it.
During the worst days of the COVID-19 pandemic, we closed senior centers to protect our staff and the older adults who frequent them. We’ve been back open for just over a year, and it’s inspiring to see our annual events like the Senior Decathlon in Magna, the Senior Spelling Bee in Sandy and Good Neighbor Day in Salt Lake City back in action. As we enter the harvest season, senior centers are alive with activity around the traveling farmer’s markets offered by our partners at the USU Extension, the Green Urban Lunchbox and the Salt Lake County Jail’s Horticulture Program.
And while senior centers are reserved for people over 60, anyone can get involved in the great work that our centers are doing by volunteering, joining our paid staff, helping to spread the word, or encouraging older loved ones to visit us.
Yes, senior centers are back! We are open! Come on in.
Preston Hutchings is the active aging section manager for Salt Lake County Aging & Adult Services, where he oversees operations for senior centers and health promotion and education programming. Learn more about Salt Lake County senior centers at slco.org/aging.