Find your niche in a senior group

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published February 15, 2017

 Barbara Donnelly and Joanne Neirynck, of St. Clair Shores, knit Feb. 7 with a group at the Senior Activity Center, where members joke that sometimes they socialize more than knit.

Barbara Donnelly and Joanne Neirynck, of St. Clair Shores, knit Feb. 7 with a group at the Senior Activity Center, where members joke that sometimes they socialize more than knit.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

METRO DETROIT — With studies showing that keeping your brain active prevents the onset of dementia, more and more people are looking to find ways to do just that.

The answer might be in your own neighborhood.

Aging populations have led to a proliferation of senior centers, with one in almost every community offering card groups, book clubs, knitting circles and more.

“They’ll come and sign up and they’ll say, ‘I’m perfectly happy at home,’ and then I see them every single day,” said Amy Drake, Shelby Township Senior Center coordinator. “They’ll say to me, ‘I have no idea what I did before I started coming here, but I know I’m going to live longer because I’m coming here,’ and it’s a really good feeling for us as well.”

Along with meals and social parties, the core of what many centers offer is groups and classes where members can find a niche in what they have always loved to do or branch out and try a new hobby. 

In Shelby Township, the center offers groups for deaf people and those with hearing loss; watercolor painting; Bible study; knitting, crocheting and quilting; choir; exercise; brain games; travel; and more.

At the St. Clair Shores Senior Activity Center, there are groups that meet daily or weekly, said Senior Activity Center Coordinator Carly Podzikowski.

“We have several card groups that come in pretty much daily. Everything from pinochle to mah jongg — they play everything,” she said.

The knitting and crocheting group makes lap blankets for hospice patients, and the book club meets once a month in conjunction with a club offered through the city’s library. A coloring group meets each Wednesday, she said.

“It’s a very social group that we have here,” she said. 

There’s even a group that binge-watches the latest PBS series. It began during the heyday of “Downton Abbey,” and now continues with “Victoria.”

“I think it keeps them active. It keeps their mind active, and in addition to having a physical aspect, we have some mental health aspect as well, because being with people is what people do,” Podzikowski said of the senior groups. 

At the Older Persons’ Commission in Rochester, they tell seniors that if they don’t find something they like in the groups that are offered, let a director know, and OPC staff will try to get another group started.

“The byproduct (of finding a group) is making new friends, having good conversation and continuing with lifelong learning activities,” said Dianne Bubnar, enrichment manager, in an email. “Some folks come in the morning, have lunch and join another group in the afternoon.”

She said staff likes to think “outside the box at OPC.” They offer cards, computer groups and digital photography classes, and groups for seniors who are trying to maintain their native language of German, Italian, Polish, Spanish or French,  and the languages of India and China. 

“We also offer some groups like guitar, ukulele and, in the library, a fireside poetry group and a classic book club, and chess in the evening,” Bubnar said. 

Beginning Feb. 21, the OPC will also offer Team Trivia, a new group that keeps brains active.

Travel groups are a great niche to be found at senior centers, Bubnar said. 

“When they take a trip, they are matched up with a partner on the bus ride, and I have had so many of our seniors tell me that they have met a lifelong friend on one of our trips,” she said. “The great part about traveling with OPC is you are dropped off right at the door of any venue, and we have engaging escorts that see to their every need!”

All of that leads to better lives for senior citizens, organizers say.

“Research shows that, compared to their peers, senior center participants have a higher level of health,” Drake said. “The more interaction they get outside of their home, the longer they’re going to live.”