In Baltimore County, they are no longer your grandfather's senior centers

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Interested in martial arts? How about yoga? Would a class in alternative medicine appeal to you? What if a place offered all of these, along with a well-equipped fitness center?

Such places exist in Baltimore County. They're called senior centers.

The leading edge of the baby boom generation crossed the age-60 threshhold of senior center membership a few years ago. Now, men and women approaching retirement age are looking to incorporate the senior centers in their active lifestyles.

They want more than card games and knitting lessons, and senior centers are paying heed.

One might think this surge in interest in what senior centers have to offer is a result of the baby boomers now becoming a larger proportion of the county population. But that's not the case.

Recent census data show that the county's population of people age 65 and older has been about the same percentage of the overall population over the past 10 years. In fact, it fell slightly, from 14.6 percent to 14.4 percent. Statewide, the 65-and-older population went from 11.3 to 12.2 percent in the same decade. Nationally, it went from 12.4 to 13 percent.

So, the interest in Baltimore County senior centers is going up as the proportion of seniors in the population stays relatively static.

County officials saw the rise in interest coming.

"We've been preparing for that for some time because we have been looking ahead," said Joanne Williams, director of the county's Office of Aging. "We've tweaked our programming and the focus of our programs and services to be appealing to the baby boomer, the younger senior. …"

Offerings like workout classes and lessons in Zumba (a commercial, Latin-inspired dance-fitness program, that according to its website, lets you "party yourself into shape") have turned senior centers into places that people want to join, not just where they end up. One senior center manager reports having folks as young as 50 asking to become members.

Nationwide, the baby boomer generation has always regarded itself as special, carrying its "cool" flag in its march from youth to middle age and, now, beyond.

Will senior centers become "cool" hangouts? County officials seem to be planning for that.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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