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Research highlights increasing role of senior centres for aging citizens

July 13, 2023

A new study by SFU researchers finds that while senior centres play a crucial role in promoting aging citizens’ wellbeing they also face challenges in ensuring they are well-positioned to meet the emerging needs of older adults.

An analysis of six independent, not for profit senior centres in Metro Vancouver showed that the capacity of senior centres would be enhanced through several measures: by encouraging collective advocacy among centres, developing more mutually beneficial research partnerships between centres and academia, and increasing sustainable funding. 

Researchers Laura Kadowaki, Andrea Wadman and Andrew Wister from SFU’s gerontology department, and community partner Anthony Kupferschmidt, acknowledge that as our population ages and diversifies, the health and social needs of older British Columbians are becoming increasingly complex. In response, senior centres facilitate health promotion programs, social services, and recreational activities.

Those interviewed, including centre staff, board members, and participants, described senior centres as welcoming and inclusive spaces that foster social connections, empowerment, and a sense of safety and dignity for older adults. The study also emphasized the highly adaptable nature of senior centres by which they can meet the needs of their members and communities amid change. 

In recent years, local senior centres have exhibited an ability to adjust and address the evolving needs of older adults during unprecedented times. 

From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, most B.C. senior centres promptly reassessed the needs of their members, and discovered new, meaningful ways to continue supporting their isolated members, despite the physical-distancing limitations in-place. 

Researchers suggest more targeted funding for adequate resources to sufficiently address the growing needs of aging adults, vulnerable citizens, and diverse communities, would mean senior centres could continue to adapt and effectively contribute to the health and wellbeing of older citizens. This becomes especially crucial as the population of older adults and vulnerable community members increases and volunteer capacities continue to decline. 

Developing partnerships between centres and academics would also help centres to more effectively meet long-term goals, while collective advocacy and action would help to keep older adults and their issues in the public eye. 

While individual senior centres can offer support to low income and vulnerable adults, they are unable to address the systemic barriers that create these vulnerabilities, the researchers say.

“More opportunities are needed for senior centres to engage in dialogue, cooperate, and share their successes with each other as individual centres have limited capacity to address these issues on their own.” 

The research was supported through funding from Michael Smith Health Research BC.

Read their full report here