A recent report suggests more older Vermonters remain in need of critical services.

A summertime survey and fall report — “Vermont Senior Centers: Supporting Socialization, Health and Well-being for Older Vermonters” — outlined the needs of seniors citizens in the state and the role for senior centers to address them.

The survey and report were conducted by the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living.

The report stated that research linked social isolation to adverse health outcomes, including the risk of chronic disease, depression, dementia and death, and noted that 40,000 older Vermonters live alone and 10,000 live in poverty.

“It is critical that the state do all we can to provide opportunities for older Vermonters to engage with neighbors, friends and their community,” the report stated. “Vermont’s senior centers are on the front lines of supporting socialization and engagement and preventing isolation. They are essential in the state’s efforts to support healthy aging and prevent or delay institutionalization.”

The survey found that senior centers serve more than 15,000 older Vermonters annually and provide a wide range of activities and services to promote socialization, health and well-being.

In addition to nutritious meals, over 90% of senior centers offer exercise classes, 85% offer health and wellness education and 73% offer recreational activities and organized trips, the report said.

To further interaction between seniors and the community, the report recommended partnerships and collaborations between senior centers and financial institutions and foundations; farmers, chefs and grocery stores; and schools, hospitals and small businesses.

The report also noted some challenges for senior centers, including limited budgets preventing the hiring of new staff, diversifying offerings and providing transportation for participants. Senior centers struggle to recruit new and younger staff and volunteers.

The Montpelier Senior Activity Center has joined advocates for senior citizens’ welfare at the state level.

The senior center is a founding member of the Vermont Association of Senior Centers and Meal Providers (VASCAMP), with Director Janna Clar serving on the VASCAMP steering committee.

The mission of VASCAMP is to advocate for senior centers and senior meals on a statewide level, promote the growth and quality of all centers, and strengthen the professional skills of staff and volunteers.

Clar and VASCAMP regularly communicate with the Vermont Unit on Aging and the congressional delegation to advocate for senior center funding and recognition of senior meals as health care. In March, VASCAMP leaders met with the Vermont Association of Area Agencies on Aging to discuss collaborative goals, and have established a weekly legislative meeting of the Caucus for Older Vermonters to further objectives for seniors.

Those demands are real, the report found.

The DAIL report concluded that if senior centers are to thrive, they will need to transform and evolve.

“But they cannot do this alone,” the report stated. “They need the support of state Area Agencies on Aging, towns and municipalities, business sector, healthcare systems and local communities.”

The report added that next steps for DAIL to address included sharing information; raising awareness about “the critical link between preventing isolation and strengthening senior centers;” providing more technical assistance and networking support; developing a “toolkit of best practices and innovations” and advocating for the sustainable support of senior centers.

The survey was distributed to 46 identified senior centers across the state, of which 28 or nearly 61% responded.

The major activities the survey identified at senior centers provided included: social (100%), exercise classes (92%), health and wellness education (85%); arts and crafts, recreational, organized trips and health screenings or clinics (73%); educational speakers (65%), online learning and computer classes (38%); cooking classes (35%); educational classes (31%); oral health screenings (12%); and legal and financial assistance (10%).

stephen.mills @timesargus.com

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