PARKERSBURG - Local senior centers offer activities and programs that not only keep seniors physically active but also stimulate memory and keep their minds fit as well.
September is National Senior Center Month.
According to Senior Living.org one of the biggest fears for seniors is losing their mental sharpness or developing dementia. Local senior centers offer programs and classes that not only provide physical activity to stimulate muscles, they also have have activities designed to keep the mind sharp as well.
Margaret White, a retired nurse who volunteers at the Belpre Senior Center, works a jigsaw puzzle on the center’s computer.
The Belpre Senior Center on Washington Boulevard operates in partnership with Marietta's O'Neill Senior Center and the city of Belpre. Susie Casto, manager at the Belpre center, said offering everything from exercise classes to social activities helps with the center's goal of keeping seniors healthy, independent and productive.
"There is a very real basis for taking care of your brain, just as you should care for your heart, it all ties together," Casto said.
The Belpre center offers activities and classes, including chair volleyball, social and fellowship time, luncheons, socials, educational seminars, exercise and dance classes, cards, games, bingo, trips, cruises and computer time.
"They work crossword and jigsaw puzzles. The newest thing is working jigsaw puzzles on the computer. It helps with hand-eye coordination. It's an individual challenge, as well as making them feel more comfortable working on the computer, learning how to use the mouse," Casto said. "We often have handouts that include word puzzles. Anytime you can encourage them to stay engaged, whether it's with a neighbor, vision, thinking, focusing, it helps."
Casto said some seniors who are home alone often find themselves becoming isolated and depressed.
Emolene Lynch suffered some health problems and was not able to get to the center for several months.
"I got bored being home all the time by myself. I enjoy the fellowship and I love the people here. Staying at home and not doing anything, I just go so depressed," Lynch said.
Certified Tai Chi instructor Sherry Lafley teaches a beginners class. The Tai Chi program offered at the center is endorsed by the Arthritis Foundation and Retired Senior Volunteer Program.
"It improves balance, flexibility and reduces stress," Lafley said.
"It is helpful in preventing falls, which are the leading cause of loss of independence by seniors," Casto said.
"Tai Chi is similar to shadow boxing, it improves balance, reduces stress, mind, and body. It can be done by anyone, even from a seated position. Any level of physical ability can benefit," Lafley said.
Mike Dennis, executive director of the Wood County Senior Citizens Center, said part of what the Parkersburg senior center offers is companionship. The center is located at 925 Market St. in downtown Parkersburg.
"We offer them socialization opportunities and that's part of staying active. We have folks here who are 98 years old," Dennis said.
"We have offered exercise classes in the past but many of these individuals are quite a bit older. Many of them live alone and the center provides them the chance to get out," he said. "Some of them have told me it's the best hours of their day spent at the center, mind and soul is important," Dennis said.
"We are working on hiring an activities director. We haven't had one because of funding issues, but I think we've found a way to do it, so there will be some changes in the center. Improvements and programs for some of the younger seniors should be available in the near future," Dennis said.
Dennis noted that keeping the mind occupied and active is as important as being physically active.
"There's an old saying, 'You rest, you rust.' I think people who live to be in their 90s live that long because of the support they have around them, whether it's their family, friends or people at the senior center they know, but it is vital," he said.
The Parkersburg center offers bingo and other games.
"They love dominos which requires brain power, some of the seniors love to play pool, we have a large group everyday, games that require you to have mental agility are good.
"The center helps them get out of the house and stay active. We had one woman who had brain surgery who comes in and I think it's really helped her with memory and focus," said Jennie Stringer, a volunteer at the Wood County Senior Center.