As we age, staying connected is very important.

Our social network is a blessing that is often taken for granted, especially the networks we’ve developed in the workplace. These connections are not missed until they are gone. Without being aware that it’s happening, retirees often drift into isolation. Losing a spouse or partner intensifies the isolation. 

Every aging person is challenged with staying socially connected.

Seniors must make conscious, concerted efforts to connect with people beyond their immediate families. When successful, these efforts are compensated by experiencing rewarding environments and the opportunity to participate in stimulating conversations. The good thing about living in Seattle: Opportunities for connections abound — that’s because every neighborhood throughout our city has a senior center.

For some of us, the term “senior center” conjures up negative images of “old people playing cards.” If this is your vision, please reconsider. Envision a vital, “young” senior center that is in tune with today’s active seniors.

Let’s update our thinking

I think senior centers frequently are overlooked and underutilized. They provide an opportunity to get out of the house, meet people, be active and share interests.

The demographic of active attendees can be surprisingly young. Some people retire early…in their mid-50s. When they do, they lose the workplace connectedness they once had. 

Many turn to senior centers as a way to build new networks of friends and as a way to remain active. Keep in mind, we are staying more active and living longer than prior generations.

Yes, at Seattle’s senior centers, you will find “old people” playing cards, but you will be surprised at what else you find. There are support groups, discussion groups and various clubs. There are lending libraries, as well as exercise and art classes. 

Classes include foreign languages, storytelling, drawing, painting, watercolor, knitting, photography, music and computers. Dinners, movie nights, trips and travel are part of the regularly scheduled activities, too. Outings that include transportation go to places like Issaquah’s Gilman Village for shopping and dinner and the Seattle Center for Winterfest activities. 

How about a tour of Seattle to see holiday lights? At senior centers, holiday meals are a way to joyously gather.

You may not know this, but senior centers are also community resources. Several have integrated health and wellness clinics that provide health checkups, dental care, foot care and massage. Some have nail and hair salons.

If you are a care provider or if you are looking out for a retired, aging parent, senior centers provide respite for both you and the aging person. The centers provide a fresh, stimulating environment for people who might otherwise be housebound.

Does your neighborhood have a senior center? Most likely. There are senior centers in Ballard, West Seattle, Wallingford, Pike Place Market, Lake City, Southeast Seattle, Central Area, Downtown, Ravenna, Greenwood, International District, White Center, University District and South Park. Our neighboring cities have senior centers, as well.

King County Seniors Online has a complete list of senior centers with their addresses and phone numbers: www.scn.org/people/seniors/senior_ctrs.html.

Art inspires

Many seniors have mobility issues that might discourage them from regularly experiencing Seattle’s arts community. The Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Opera, Seattle Symphony and other arts organizations have processes and procedures to assist disabled visitors. The organizations’ websites have the specific details; all are wheelchair-accessible and offer aids for hearing-impaired.

Seattle Opera has a “Senior Rush” program offering a limited number of tickets at $40 for seniors 65 and older. At one performance, the Opera provides a special audio track for the visually impaired. 

Isolation

Drifting into isolation is a common problem for seniors.  Isolation is debilitating and leads to depression. Over time, isolation is a pattern from which it is increasingly difficult to break away. 

Living is more than breathing and eating: It is our social connections, our extended families, our interests outside of self, our involvement in community and our interest in learning and the arts. 

If you are a senior who is becoming isolated, become reengaged. If you know a senior who is becoming isolated, help them reengage. Your local senior center would be the channel to make that happen. 

Also, make a date with a senior and facilitate an outing to the art museum, symphony, opera or another activity he or she once enjoyed. Then make that a regular part of your lives. 

MARLA BECK, a Magnolia resident, is the founder and president of Andelcare Inc., which provides in-home eldercare. She was named the U.S. Small Business Administration’s 2012 Washington state Small Business Person of the Year. Submit questions by calling (206) 838-1844 or via e-mail to marla@andelcare.com.