Rethinking Senior Care And Living In Westchester

That rocking chair on the porch? It’s empty. Today’s county seniors are too busy banging out the beat in African drum circles, competing in Wii bowling leagues, parsing prize-winning literature, and “grandparenting” little preschool friends.

If you’re inching upward toward your golden years, perhaps facing an empty nest and contemplating retirement—or thinking about your parents doing the same—you might be worrying about what you (or they) are going to do all day, and who you (or they) are going to be doing it with. “The thing many people fear as they grow older and friends move on or away, is being lonely,” says Harrison’s Susan Yubas, a consultant to older adults and their families and founder of FYI Senior Living Solutions, Inc. “But there are many opportunities locally that offer the benefit of intellectual stimulation and social and physical activity that allow older adults to develop new relationships.” 

As to whom you are going to be doing all these terrific things with, you’ll have plenty of company in Westchester. According to the county’s Department of Senior Programs and Services (DSPS), as of the 2010 census, 20 percent of Westchester’s population, or 192,309 individuals, were aged 60 or older—a 15-percent increase from the year 2000. Fortunately, all those seniors will find plenty of local daytime programs offering opportunities to socialize with friends old and new, ways to keep their minds engaged and bodies fit, and helpful support services. Here is a look at some:

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The Good Times, Golden Years-Style: Senior Centers 

From the Ardsley Senior Citizens Club to Yorktown Seniors-Shrub Oak, the county DSPS website lists scores of senior centers and clubs throughout Westchester, so chances are there’s one near you. The concept of the senior center is not new, but it’s been tweaked to reflect the needs and wants of today’s increasingly active Baby Boomer cohort, with everything from tai chi to lectures on Impressionism and trips to historic Harlem. 

The Rye Brook Senior Center at the Anthony J. Posillipo Community Center, headed by Liz Rotfeld, senior citizens coordinator and deputy village clerk for the Village of Rye Brook, is typical of an active center. “People say, ‘Oh, that’s for old people,’ and they themselves are 85!” Rotfeld says. “There’s a misconception that everyone’s sitting around playing bingo and eating, when we really try to be an active center. I had trouble keeping up with an exercise class and I’m 45.”

As for programming, Rotfeld says, “I think about what I would like to do. Even though in some cases I might be half their age, we like the same things.” Member Nancy Weinberger, 67, of Rye Brook particularly enjoyed a series of lectures about presidents from Lincoln through FDR. “The two-hour classes flew by,” says Weinberger.  “I wish I had a professor like him when I was going to college.” 

“They’ve become something like an extended family,” says Gilda Press, director of Eastchester Senior Program and Services about the members of its Lake Isle Senior Center. “They care if someone is sick or in the hospital and are organized in their response.” A typical day may find between 70 and 120 participants—Mahjong on Wednesday attracts some of the biggest crowds—and exercise is offered five days a week, with anything from a light workout in a chair to fairly energetic aerobics, tai chi, yoga, and Zumba. In addition to town senior centers, many churches and synagogues have their own senior clubs, some of which are open to the public. Also check out the local YMCA or JCC—both offer lots of senior programming.

Staying Home Sweet Home: Aging-in-Place Programs   

“While the vast majority of people would prefer to continue to live in their own homes as they age,” says Yubas, “people often move to senior-living communities for social and practical needs.” But what if there was a way to provide seniors with the support they’d need to stay in their own Westchester homes? Thanks to the Aging-in-Place (AIP) movement, in many communities there already is a way. The county’s Center for Aging in Place currently lists eight affiliated groups that offer “the social support, healthcare, and home-maintenance services [seniors] require to live happy, productive lives in the community.” While each group differs somewhat, all provide social and practical programs designed to enable people to age at home alone.  

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“With effective programs, individuals don’t feel isolated because they have connections to one another and the communities in which they have raised a family,” says Susan Gilbert, program coordinator of At Home in Scarsdale Village. Several members are in their 80s, says Gilbert, and have given up driving, and while they didn’t necessarily know each other before, they enjoy chatting together in the program’s van as it takes them on outings. Longtime Scarsdale resident Janice Cohen joined At Home as a way to continue to be active and social when she had outlived many of her friends and others had moved away or into assisted living. “I no longer drive to the City, so the van takes me to things I’ve always loved, like the theater and museums,” she says. “And we have lunch together that day.”

“It’s the reason I chose Bronxville and why I can stay in my home,” says Shirley Homes, 87, of Gramatan Village in Bronxville. It was Gramatan that found Homes a professional driver to take her three times weekly to dialysis in Hawthorne; when he is not available, Gramatan volunteers fill in. The wife of one of the volunteers even calls Homes every so often just to say hello. “The volunteers are wonderful people who are reliable and really care,” Homes adds. “And while my daughter does a great deal to keep me comfortable, she lives an hour and 15 minutes away. So it’s a comfort to my whole family.”

Just Like Home, but Even Better: Adult Day Care 

You might think this cheery space in a modern building on a leafy campus is a college student union. A group is making oatmeal chocolate-chip cookies in a kitchen area, and others are watching black-and-white films in a darkened theater. And in a lounge with soaring 16-foot-high ceilings, still others keep the beat in an African drum circle. Rather than the hangout of texting teens, the facility is actually the Wartburg Adult Day Care Center in Mount Vernon. “It’s a long way from just staying at home,” says Dana Nolan, director of the program. “We take care of the whole being—socialization and participating in events that stimulate their minds.” 

 “A routine they know can be very effective,” she adds. “It gives them a sense of purpose that’s very beneficial, like they used to go to work or worked in the home.” 

Much farther up the county, four preschoolers are sitting at their teacher’s feet following the illustrated tale of Chick ‘n’ Pug. Around them sits a group of seniors. Grandparents’ Visiting Day at school? Actually, no. The seniors and children are participants in the JEWEL Program (Joining Elders with Early Learners), which brings together older adults from My Second Home adult day-care center with kids from the Mount Kisco Child Care Center five days a week to share activities. My Second Home’s regular intergenerational approach—currently the only such program in the county, but another, the Lanza Family Center for All Ages, modeled after My Second Home, is slated to open in White Plains in December—has been found to have profound benefits for all participants. 

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Specific children are paired with specific seniors for a period of several months. “And what we see is that not only does the child feel extremely loved by a grandma or grandpa [figure], the older adult feels whole. They have a purpose,” explains Rina Bellamy, director of My Second Home. “They know they have a role to play—to nurture—and they’re not thinking about their bills or pains.” As for the kids? “Every one is a potential friend no matter how they look on the outside,” says Jennifer Brola of Somers, mother of 5-year-old Teddy Richards, a recent participant. When her son saw a group of seniors waiting for their grandchildren after a class elsewhere, says Brola, he went right up to them and said, “Hi, I’m Teddy. What’s your name?” 

For a list of additional adult day-care programs in the county, visit seniorcitizens.westchestergov.com/adult-day-care.

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