Bay Ridge

NYC older adult centers need to address the needs of a new constituency: Aging baby boomers

February 20, 2024 Todd W. Fliedner
Caption: Cover of a recent report on the health of aging New Yorkers by Dr. Oxiris Barbot, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Health.Photo courtesy NYC Health
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The Baby Boomer generation is aging — and that is causing a major demographic shift in New York City. Overall, the older adult population is expected to increase by 40% by 2040, and some neighborhoods are seeing even more rapid change. In Southwest Brooklyn, a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC), NYC Aging has projected a 75% increase in demand for older adult services over the next 7 years. To prepare for this fundamental shift, Older Adult Centers (OACs) must anticipate this population’s unique, multifaceted needs. Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are entering their golden years amid health challenges, social change, technological leaps, and more. It’s essential that OACs adopt a new model of aging that promotes health, cultural diversity, education, and community. All of this is key to ensuring that our neighbors can grow older within their own communities and live happier, more active lives.

Caption: Cover of a recent report on the health of aging New Yorkers by Dr. Oxiris Barbot, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Health.Photo courtesy NYC Health
Caption: Cover of a recent report on the health of aging New Yorkers by Dr. Oxiris Barbot, Commissioner of the NYC Department of Health.
Photo courtesy NYC Health

The role of OACs is perhaps most clear in health. Among older adults, fitness is important — but inactivity is widespread. It can increase the risk of chronic illness as well as mortality. When OACs offer tailored, evidence-based fitness activities, as well as health education and wellness programs, that can translate into longer lives. Isolation, also common among older adults, is another risk factor for physical decline, as well as mental health issues. OACs again serve as a lifeline, as group activities offer opportunities for shared experiences, friendship, and social well-being. 

With regard to social supports, traditional Older Adult Center activities like games, are wonderful, but there is so much more that can be offered that not only promotes connection, but enrichment and learning. Art, music, and dance programs are all key means of enhancing older adults’ lives — and workshops and lectures lead to intellectual stimulation and personal growth. OACs can also connect Boomers to opportunities for mentorship, consulting, and volunteer work, which not only help them remain active, but contribute to the economic vitality of the community.

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In addition to offering these kinds of programs, it is urgent that OACs address the digital divide that is harming so many older adults by blocking them from essential information, including getting the latest news and finding physicians. For low-income older adults, the harm is magnified, especially because so many benefits programs are best accessed online. OACs can offer access to technology as well as classes that are friendly to people of all experience levels, from those who have never gone online to those who use some technology but want to build skills. They can also address the digital divide by offering robust social services — and directly register older adults for benefits as needed.

In promoting older New Yorkers’ well-being, it is also important that OACs reflect the community’s diversity. We need to celebrate cultural traditions, offer multi-lingual services, and respect cultural nuances in order to create inclusive spaces where Baby Boomers of all backgrounds feel seen, heard, and valued.  We must also respect diversity by addressing the physical accessibility of buildings and transportation options, as well the affordability of the latter. In Southwest Brooklyn and across New York City, it is paramount that we commit to ensuring that every older adult can easily reach and participate in activities at OACs.

Addressing Boomers’ multifaceted needs at OACs, from promoting health and community engagement to education and inclusivity, ultimately facilitates “aging in place.” Providing older adults with a wide array of supports helps them safely remain in their homes and communities — which is what most prefer to do. It can lead to healthier, happier lives and greater intergenerational connectedness within communities.

Todd W. Fliedner is the Executive Director of Bay Ridge Center.
Todd W. Fliedner is the Executive Director of Bay Ridge Center.
Photo courtesy of Todd W. Fliedner

It’s clear that establishing Older Adult Centers that can support aging Baby Boomers in Southwest Brooklyn and across New York City should be top of mind with our elected officials, advocates, and community leaders. There is a need to secure OAC funding, develop legislation that addresses older adults’ unique needs, and spearhead inclusive community planning on a continuous basis. The older adult population is growing and the support for their right to continue to live and thrive in their communities must grow with it. 

The imperative to continue to develop Older Adult Centers cannot be overstated. They serve as more than just spaces for recreational activities; they are pillars of community support, fostering a culture that values and uplifts its aging population. Recognizing the unique needs of the Baby Boomer generation and tailoring services to meet those needs, including the vital aspect of aging in place, is not only an investment in individual well-being, but a commitment to building a resilient, interconnected, and age-friendly city for all. As we navigate the evolving landscape of our aging population, the establishment and enhancement of Older Adult Centers stands as a testament to our dedication to ensuring that every stage of life is embraced and imbued with a sense of dignity, purpose, and community. 

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