Senior centers pivot to provide services during pandemic

Celebrate Older Americans Month by strengthening your community. In 2020, many older Georgians were forced to isolate themselves to stay healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. This meant that many seniors were unable to see their families and friends regularly. Normal activities were put on hold or made virtual.       

Senior centers help keep seniors healthy and engaged in their community. The centers provide resources to promote active, healthy and independent lifestyles. They also provide a safe environment for seniors to meet with friends, peers and volunteers. The centers offer a wide range of programs and services including meal and nutrition programs, fitness classes, recreational activities, arts programs, transportation and much more. Pandemic safety and social distancing guidelines made many senior centers close or reimagine their operations.    

During the pandemic, Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) worked tirelessly to keep services available to the seniors who needed them most. The Southwest Georgia (SOWEGA) Council on Aging effectively implemented a “senior center without walls” model to transform the delivery of services to seniors, beginning in April 2020. The challenge was finding providers who could offer warm, nutritious meals in a safe environment. The solution was to contract with local restaurants throughout the service area, allowing senior center participants to safely pick up warm meals in a drive-through setting.   

SOWEGA and several other AAAs transitioned in-person activities to virtual settings, reaching seniors across the state through video, phone, public radio and even activity packs sent home with meals. The Three Rivers AAA engaged its clients in a number of exciting ways, including hosting a virtual health fair over Zoom, which empowered clients to take charge of their health and included a cooking demonstration. A senior center in the Atlanta Regional Commission’s service area launched a Clue mystery game over the phone, adding an exciting new twist to a year of virtual programming which was embraced by participants.  

Many AAAs around the state also implemented drive-thru and curbside meal pickups and activities so that clients could see and interact with their friends in a safe way. A favorite activity in many areas has been “Beep Beep Bingo,” where participants drive to a center’s parking lot, play the classic game and honk their horn when BINGO is claimed. 

Several AAAs, including Northwest Georgia, purchased groceries for clients to help clients maintain independence while meeting nutritional needs. Northwest Georgia AAA staff also created a unique way to address the needs of older adults and persons with disabilities through its case management program. Case managers felt that they were not optimally addressing an individual’s needs without meeting them in person. So, staff began conducting “porch visits.” Case managers scheduled porch visits when an individual’s care plan identified they would be best served with a face-to-face visit. Porch visits were instrumental in allowing the AAA to provide person-centered care for older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

AAAs and senior centers also helped strengthen their communities through popular intergenerational community projects. One project, The Device Advice Program, pairs high school or college students with seniors to teach them how to use their smart devices (phone, tablet, etc.). This project helps bridge the gap between seniors and young adults in the community. The Division of Aging Services is hopeful to expand this program to more senior centers statewide by offering intergenerational projects through the Older Americans Act.    

Georgia’s aging network and AAAs have done incredible work to ensure isolated seniors were not alone during the pandemic by providing programs and services to help them remain independent, healthy and active members of the community. To find an Area Agency on Aging near you and learn about what’s happening with seniors in your community, visit aging.georgia.gov/locations