If we don't create and support environments that foster dignity and connection -- where even the most vulnerable among us can participate in opportunities for service and recreation that honor our intrinsic worth at every age -- shame on us.
In a previous piece, "Casinos as the Bleak New Senior Citizen Center," I ventured into the heart of a riverboat casino to talk with seniors taking advantage of the $2.99 discount lunch buffet. I was spurred by the realization that more than half of all adult visitors to casinos last year were 50 and older, and many of them (as is echoed in the slim body of research on the subject) come to play slots -- a game that I surmised can make a luckless zombie out of any of us. I closed the piece by asking:
Now that government is the biggest sponsor of casino gaming, all of us--even those who never visit casinos -- have to ask, are we turning a blind eye to a government-sponsored predator that creates false community, drains money and undermines dignity for those most vulnerable among us? Are casinos really the most responsible form of recreation we can offer our seniors?
I couldn't end on that bleak note without offering more in the realm of alternatives. I decided to visit a proper senior center, of the sort that's recently been making some headway. I chose PACE (Program for the All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly), which is among the new-model interdisciplinary care centers -- incorporating teams of doctors, recreational managers, dieticians, pharmacists, physical and occupational therapists, and home care coordinators in an integrated approach. The idea is that the team effectively assesses medical needs and support systems to create unique, comprehensive care/life plans.
Arriving at the sun-lit PACE building in Baton Rouge, I watched as wheelchairs and walkers glided smoothly across the wood floor as people left in vans for home or the grocery store, and new people arrived for the day's activities. Everyone who entered was greeted warmly by name while the receptionists retrieved their name tag.