What is a senior?


If you’re younger than 60, you may not have thought about it before: The differences between a 10-year-old and a 30-year-old are obvious, but what about the same age gap among the senior population?

For example, if you’re 90 years old, that means you were born in 1928, when only about 40 percent of Americans had a telephone and there was no such thing as an automatic transmission, a ballpoint pen, or a computer. But if you’re 70, you heard rock ‘n’ roll as a teen, used a microwave oven to cook for your family, and now probably have Facebook and an email account.

It’s the challenge facing organizations serving an older population – how do they appeal to a client base with such a broad span of ages?

“The age spectrum of seniors has grown and therefore so do the needs and interests we address,” said Robin Clough, volunteers and recreation coordinator at the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center. “We have a lot of participants who are younger baby boomers all the way up to a home-delivered meal recipient who is 103 years old and still living independently in her home.”

Local seniors show a real diversity of interests, sometimes unrelated to age. “Fitness classes are very popular and there is a good mix of ages,” Clough said. “They are quite a workout, and even those on the older senior side are committed and undaunted.”

Individuals with mobility issues have fitness opportunities too – they get a cardio workout and stretching through chair exercise classes at the Senior Center. And there are many activities that don’t require physical capabilities.

“The room is filled for duplicate bridge and for scholar series lectures,” she added. “They love the challenges and enhancing their knowledge.”

The Senior Center’s weekly wellness lectures draw a crowd because a lot of seniors today are interested in cutting-edge information about wellness, according to Clough. “The most popular classes are those that promote health, brain challenges, and lifelong learning,” she said. “Of course, the added benefit is opportunity for socialization and lots of fun!”


Active lifestyle

Making friends is one of the reasons Beverly Larkin, 74, chooses the active lifestyle she has. “When you retire you step into a whole different world,” she said. “We had so much social contact related to our jobs, but as soon as you retire the door closes on that.”

Larkin took up pickleball more than three years ago, after she retired. Now she plays the sport she calls “addictive” up to four times a week. “It’s a wonderful social outlet,” she said.

Larkin also plays in a 55-plus bowling league. She lives on a 10-acre ranch in the Bouquet Canyon area, and she returned to horseback riding after enjoying it as a girl. The “games” may have changed with age, but being active was always a way of life for her. As a young woman she did aerobics, power walking, gym workouts and snow skiing, which is one of the sports she misses.  

“It was a reason to go up to the snow,” said Larkin, a Chicago native who moved to Santa Clarita in 2000. “I live in a dry, warm climate, and I miss the cold, crisp weather that you can get up in the mountains.”

Snow skiing and water skiing are activities that Bill and Lois Paul, who live in Friendly Valley, had to leave in the past. “Life changes,” said Bill Paul, 82. “When you first retire at 65 you’re still very young … people are living a lot longer and are in better shape than they would’ve been 40 years ago. But as the years go by you slow down.”

He plays golf once or twice a week, a sport he picked up when he was about 55 years old. In fact, it was golf that brought the Pauls to Santa Clarita from Burbank, where they raised their family. Friends invited them up to Friendly Valley for a day of golf. “We came up here and saw them moving dirt around, so I thought, ‘I’m going to check that out,’” Bill said.


Bill and Lois Paul of Friendly Valley COURTESY PHOTO


Loving the SCV

That was 14 years ago, and Friendly Valley was building a new phase. The Pauls saw the floorplans and bought a lot and a new house – with a view.

“Lois came kicking and screaming,” Bill joked. “But once she got up here, in about three days she loved it.”

Both in their 60s when they relocated, Bill and Lois Paul maintained a similar pace to what they had in the San Fernando Valley. They became a part of Grace Baptist Church in Santa Clarita after decades at Calvary Church in Burbank. “I’m still in Bible studies at Grace Baptist,” she said. “I used to drive, but now my friends are picking me up.”

A medical scare last year left Lois needing help to walk. “It really put me back not doing things I used to do,” she said. “If it wasn’t for Bill I’d probably need a caregiver.”

They’ve seen similar changes among their friends where they live. “My neighbor across the street has a full-time caregiver,” Lois said. “Fourteen years ago we were alive and kicking, and now we’ve had three on our street pass away.”

But for healthy, youthful residents of Friendly Valley, there is plenty to do.

“We take walks and you can go golfing or go to the pool,” Lois said. “You can get around easily here on golf carts … and there’s a shuttle service that goes outside, like to the market.”

While health problems have impeded the Pauls’ freedom, it hasn’t wiped them out. They just returned from a trip to Lake Tahoe, and even took a 10-day cruise earlier in the year.

The Pauls don’t see a lot of differences between their age group and the seniors that preceded them, but they do notice a cultural shift when the next generation of neighbors moves in.

“The younger folks are into electronics and movies,” Bill said. “We grew up doing things manually – like maps, and they use Waze.”

New arrivals next door aren’t retired yet, and the Pauls love it.

“They’ve taken care of Lois a lot,” Bill said. “We’ve met some really super neighbors.”

It’s hard to believe the newest seniors grew up with color TV and some of the men have longer hair than the women. But it’s even more fun to speculate about what Generation-X senior living will look like. Will the golf carts be replaced by hovercraft?


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