For more than 60 years, the Senior Adult Department at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades has embraced a heartfelt mission: to provide a warm and welcoming environment for seniors of all ages and needs that will allow them to remain socially engaged and able to age in place. Recent studies definitively confirm that the best way for aging adults to deflect depression, declining health, and even dementia, is to remain socially active, and every program in the JCC Senior Department is designed to help people stave off loneliness and isolation by enjoying the company of their peers and being part of a larger community.
“We believe that we can help our growing population of elderly loved ones avoid the need for premature institutionalization by offering programs and services that will allow them to remain independent and in their homes for as long as possible,” says Senior Services Director Judi Nahary. “Our goal is to make this possible by offering a progressive program that allows people to transition seamlessly from one stage of life to the next, or enter at any stage, because we offer something for everyone—from active seniors to frail adults, as well as their caregivers.”
The JCC serves as a social and recreational center for active retirees, an adult day care for people with Alzheimer’s and related forms of dementia, and a place where yet others can successfully “age in place” so they do not have to move or undergo difficult adjustments as their circumstances change. To accommodate all the varying needs this entails, the JCC provides door-to-door transportation in wheelchair-accessible vehicles; hot kosher meals; programs for the arts, lectures and concerts; discussions on current affairs, gardening, music and exercise; sing-alongs and dancing; birthday and holiday celebrations; intergenerational programs with nursery school children and even an award-winning computer program that teaches computer literacy.
“We really pride ourselves on our range of offerings and our ability to serve such a diverse and ever-changing population,” Ms. Nahary continues. “Independent snowbirds, returning from Florida or other warm climates to live closer to their grown children and grandchildren can enjoy fun, stimulating activities while their children are at work and their grandchildren are at school. Frail seniors in low-income brackets, or even at poverty level, can attend concerts, lectures and daily exercise programs that greatly improve their quality of life. People with Alzheimer’s can discover a home-away-from-home in our Kaplen Adult Reach Center, where we have been using a Montessori approach that has been enhancing the social and emotional experiences for the group. And we offer training and respite for caregivers as well.
“However, one of the things that really sets us apart is our unique environment. Unlike so many facilities that are isolated from the rest of the world, our seniors meet in a sunny, thriving environment where they can interact with people from all walks of life, including nursery school children and teens, who visit them to bake, plant gardens and celebrate holidays together. These interactions are particularly ‘therapeutic.’ It is a known fact that these types of interpersonal connections actually invigorate the elderly, improve their cognitive abilities and health and even increase their lifespan. We see these benefits firsthand every day. We even have a ‘grand-friend’ program, where groups of seniors visit the same nursery school classrooms each week so they can build on their relationships throughout the school year. During their visits, they read books, tell stories, celebrate Shabbat, sing holiday songs, and share in other meaningful activities that create meaningful bonds. The groups have grown so close that the children now call their senior companions the ‘grandmas and grandpas’ of the JCC.
“There is a real ‘art’ to aging,” concludes Ms. Nahary. “Our advanced years can be a peak time for creativity and we now know that socializing and taking part in stimulating activities can help people live longer, healthier lives. Knowing this, we are dedicated to helping our participants find outlets to make these later years more fulfilling. Whether we are planning for energetic retirees or for frail people with Alzheimer’s, our hope is to offer them a home away from home where they can create deeper connections with their peers and their community. And I am proud to say that we do this every day.”