Santa Clarita may have bragging rights for building and maintaining a senior-friendly climate, but on August 21 the entire country can participate in celebrating older adults on “National Senior Citizens Day.”
In 1988, President Ronald Reagan established National Senior Citizens Day to support and honor older adults and to recognize what they contribute to their fellow Americans. The former president said, “We can best demonstrate our gratitude and esteem by making sure that our communities are good places in which to mature and grow older – places in which older people can participate to the fullest and can find the encouragement, acceptance, assistance and services they need to continue to lead lives of independence and dignity.”
According to the Administration on Aging, hundreds of thousands of older adults are the victims of neglect, abuse or exploitation every year. Those offenses include lack of food, abandonment, and sometimes physical injury. Entire families are affected by such issues as the health care and financial stability of their elder members.
“National Senior Citizens Day is a celebration to recognize contributions given by those who set the groundwork allowing our nation to be a world leader,” said Gene Uzawa Dorio, M.D. “Joining ‘The Greatest Generation’ as senior citizens are ‘baby boomers,’ being the fastest and largest growing part of our population. Unfortunately, we must also recognize the dire straits some of them face in poverty and homelessness that has caught up with them as they moved into retirement and their senior years.”
As a local geriatric specialist, Dr. Dorio regularly voices concern for issues that threaten the wellness of older adults.
“Creative ideas must flow for affordable housing, senior-friendly compatible homes, reasonably priced medication distribution, nutritious food programs, tax breaks (especially residential), and low-cost glasses, dental work, and hearing aids,” Dr. Dorio said. “We can do this on a local level in the Santa Clarita Valley, but it will require leadership from those who care and want to make a difference.”
One local church made the care of older adults a priority when Debbie Walker of Santa Clarita found her calling meeting the needs of older adults.
“A few years ago, I found my heart really being drawn to this group of people,” said Walker, the pastor of senior care at The Sanctuary Church in Newhall. “I’m realizing the smallest gestures mean so much for them.”
Walker believes there are several reasons the senior age group tends to be neglected, including the fact that we are living longer.
“Sometimes these seniors are outliving their own children,” she said. “And sometimes they’re single, never been married and never had children, so they don’t have someone to care for them. We just forget – we’re so busy with our lives, doing what we need to do – that there’s a population of people that need a touch.”
Walker arranges a monthly vacuuming for an 88-year-old friend who can’t handle the physicality of it anymore. “He does have kids who live near him and do things for him, but they can’t do everything,” she said. “It’s a lot when you’re trying to manage your own household and your parent’s household.”
To honor older friends and relatives on National Senior Citizens Day, Walker suggests giving them a sense of purpose by tapping into their greatest gift, which you get by listening.
“They don’t have the physical ability to do what they’ve always done, but they do have a voice,” she said. “Metaphorically speaking, I get buckets full of valuable insight and their experiences, what they’ve done and gone through, and I can learn from that. That is the biggest thing – understanding they do have something to offer.”
Activities for local seniors
Senior housing communities have an opportunity to engage older adults in meaningful activities, uniting them around common interests.
National Senior Citizens Day is on the radar at FountainGlen at Valencia, a three-story, 242-unit apartment community, where residents can look forward to special activities planned for the end of the month. They are hosting Spirit Week themes, including “Crazy Hair Day,” and culminating in a Senior Prom on August 31.
“Seniors can bring family and friends, and some will bring caregivers or bring their daughters, so they aren’t attending alone,” said Ashley Mosdale, the assistant manager at FountainGlen at Valencia.
There’s a long list of recreation and socializing opportunities at Belcaro Valencia, a community for homeowners age 55 and up. There are biking groups, walking groups, book clubs, exercise classes, aqua fitness, strength and stability classes, therapeutic classes, and Be Fit classes, according to Lisa Henley, who moved into Belcaro a few years ago. There is a men’s club and a women’s club, plus gender-specific poker groups. Residents can play a number of games, including Mah Jongg, canasta, bunco, bocce and pickleball. There are also individual social events from singles dinners and happy hour to line dancing, swing dancing and family bingo. Excursions are planned for Belcaro residents, as well.
Sunrise at Sterling Canyon, a senior assisted living community in Valencia, doesn’t have anything planned specifically for National Senior Citizens Day, but there are ongoing efforts to encourage intergenerational activities. They host events that include such features as barbecues and bounce houses, which draw kids and families to interact with older adults.
“We have activity requirements, and one is an intergenerational requirement, bonding younger people with older,” explained Tristan Garcia, activities and volunteer coordinator at Sunrise at Sterling. “Seniors can share their experiences with the younger generation, teach them about life experiences. And when it comes to certain things, like technology – seniors are almost afraid of that – younger people can share what comes easy to them.”