In college town, senior population growing

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By Chloe Kiple
Entirely East Lansing

EAST LANSING—In a city of nearly 48,000 residents, whose median age is just 21, there are also nearly 5,000 seniors 65 years and older. And the older demographic is growing rapidly, presenting the college-town with new challenges.

“Between 1990 and 2010, the East Lansing population of 50-plus [year-olds] increased by 40-percent,” said Prime Time senior center program planner Lisa Richey. “The number of adults aged 65 and older is expected to double within the next 25 years, so we have that to look forward to.”

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For this reason, new senior facilities and programs have been cropping up in East Lansing and nationwide. Recently, the City Council voted to turn the old Bailey Community Center into a new senior living home.

There are over 12 senior living communities in a 20-minute radius of East Lansing alone. This heavily saturated market reflects the need to accommodate the throngs of elderly citizens who need services, said Burcham Hills Retirement Community program coordinator Elizabeth Whaley.

The facility offers seniors both independent and assisted living arrangements and is at maximum capacity.

“We take active, independent seniors,” said Whaley. “But if their husband or wife is aging at a different rate and has different needs or needs more assistance, we can accommodate that level so that they have an enriched life.”

Burcham Hill staffs on-site memory loss specialists, nurses, physical therapists and recreational therapists to ensure that their residents receive the highest quality health care.

For the independent seniors, Burcham Hills provides a communal atmosphere full of friendship, companionship and activities to maintain an active lifestyle.

The Prime Time senior center also offers the elderly community a variety of activities. It offers over 200 programs including arts and crafts sessions, fitness classes, group outings, musical and theater performances, discussion groups, lectures and services the yearly AARP tax clinic.

Prime Time monitors the interests of the seniors closely and adjusts their programming accordingly. In recent years, Richey said she has heard seniors express a desire for more fitness programming.

“Younger seniors in general…are very interested in wellness and maybe less interested in euchre, chess,” said Richey. “They really want to remain active. That’s something we think about with programming.”

This attention to detail earned Prime Time accreditation through the the National Council on Aging in 2007. This designation indicates that the center met the council’s high programming and community standards.

“Less than 1-percentstyle of all senior centers in the nation have [accreditation],” said Richey. “That’s something we are really proud of.”

Prime Time has five staff members and a team of volunteers. Often, senior centers employ few people so Prime Time leaders consider themselves lucky. With this support, they can afford the time to apply for grants to keep the center mostly self-sufficient. Because of their size and will, Prime Time is the only senior center in the area to apply for and get awarded grant money from the Tri-County Area on Aging.

“Around 75-percentstyle of senior centers have gone for millages,” said Prime Time director Kelly Arndt.

The large staff, funding and a thick catalogue of senior programming distinguish Prime Time from other communities. But its proximity to the Michigan State campus also offers seniors unique opportunities.

“What makes our senior center different is we do have a lot of affiliation with MSU,” said Richey. “We have … lifelong learners that want to take classes.”

Senior Charlene Vogan is one such example. She has been an East Lansing resident since she graduated from Michigan State.

“I came here to do my final graduate work and I just stayed,” said Vogan.

As the senior population grows, Vogan and others like her will be able to capitalize on the new senior programming developing in the East Lansing community.


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