No sólo aprendió a tocar muy bien la guitarra y a adentrarse en el intrincado mundo de las computadoras. A sus 66 años, Rodrigo González también es un diestro y entusiasta usuario de las máquinas de coser, algo que en un principio pensó era una actividad difícil y sólo para mujeres.
Staying socially active is vital for the elderly
Older people who avoid loneliness and social isolation and who participate in the activities of the centers for the elderly have better physical and mental health
Not only did he learn to play the guitar very well and to delve into the intricate world of computers. At 66, Rodrigo González is also a skilled and enthusiastic user of sewing machines, something that at first he thought was a difficult activity and only for women.
"I got into sewing classes and I like it a lot; It is something very beautiful. Now I myself sew all my clothes; I fix my pants, my shirts, I make scarves and I've even made cushions for my house, "says González, who resides in the Latino neighborhood of El Barrio.
The immigrant, originally from Mexico City and with 35 years living in the Big Apple, learned these new skills -and others-, thanks to the workshops and classes he has been taking for five years in the aging center 'Carter Burden / Leonard Covello Senior Center ', located at 312 East 109th Street in East Harlem, Manhattan.
"I spend more time here than in my own house. I come seven days a week and I stay almost all day (...) Here there is much to do, in addition, you can talk with other people and you feel like family, "says the Mexican who worked for more than 25 years in the maintenance area of he Manhattan Metropolitan Hospital.
"I come here because what am I going to do all day just sitting in my house? If I do not do anything, I get sick because I'm used to working since I was a kid; I have always been a very active man, "he adds.
Although at first glance he looks like a robust man, González is unable to work. Five years ago, due to poorly controlled hypertension, he suffered a stroke that left him in a coma for five days and prostrate in a hospital bed for more than a month. This was followed by an open-heart operation. But, at present, González considers himself a healthy man and assures that he owes it in large part to all the activities he carries out in the center for the elderly, including exercises and nutrition classes. "Older Latinos like me should not be forgotten. There are many places where they can go to stay active and busy. " Also, the sextagenario emphasizes that another benefit of going to a center for the elderly is to be able to receive free or economic food - for breakfast and lunch together he pays only $ 1.50 a day - something that is very helpful for someone who survives only with the little money from the pension you receive from Social Security.
Studies and research have shown that staying physically and mentally active is the best formula to reach -and enjoy- a full and healthy old age. Another equally important factor that older people should take into account is the avoidance of loneliness and social isolation.
And, although many Latino New Yorkers live alone, there is help from the City so they can be a little more socially active.
In many neighborhoods of the five counties there are centers for seniors, in which New Yorkers of the third age can go to socialize with others who are also in their golden years and who are looking for the same benefits. Keep your body and mind occupied. This stimulates them intellectually, makes them feel useful, and allows them to achieve personal and spiritual fulfillment.
In the Big Apple, where 1.5 million people are over 60 years old (22% of them Latinas), there are more than 250 centers for the elderly founded or managed by the Department of Aging of the City of New York (DFTA), which are attended by almost 30 thousand New Yorkers daily. "In addition to giving them the opportunity to socialize, in these centers there are vital programs for the elderly as well as the" congregate meals programs ", which allow them to have lunch as a group paying a very high contribution. low or free, "says Carolina Hoyos, director of the Resource Center for Caregivers (Caregiver Resource Center) of the DFTA. "The DFTA also provides funds to the so-called 'Innovative Senior Centers' (there are 16 in the whole city), which are a little larger and have more capacity, more programs and more classes than the traditional centers, which not only involve activities physical as zumba, yoga and tai chi, but they have writing classes, arts and computers, "adds Hoyos, who clarifies that enrollment in all centers is completely free for any New Yorker over 60 years.
"These centers obviously benefit the elderly a lot by allowing them to be in contact with others, develop relationships and make friends. This motivates them to have a purpose every day, "adds the official.
The Panamanian Sonnyia Stephens, 65, also says that for three years she has benefited from all the activities available in 'Carter Burden / Leonard Covello Senior Center', which most people know simply as the 'Covello center'.
"I like everything that has to do with sewing, knitting and crafts. I also took clay classes (pottery). This distracts us a lot and helps us to keep our minds occupied and not to think so much about our problems, the rent and the lack of money, because otherwise one stays prostrate in a bed and gets depressed, "says Stephens a survivor of Breast cancer, who has been unemployed since 2012 because the food service company she worked in closed after being affected by Hurricane Sandy.
"When you no longer work, it is very important to have a place to go. Here I have done as a new family. With some people I have a very good connection and I can talk about my problems, "adds Stephens.
As explained by William J. Dionne, executive director of the 'Carter Burden Network', which runs four aging centers in New York including the 'Covello center', for many older people the sense of belonging to something is very important, especially if they are alone
"All your mental health changes when you belong to a group in which there is camaraderie (...) Depression is a very big problem in this community and that is exacerbated when you are sitting alone in your house," says Dionne whose center, being considered an 'inovated senior center', has more funds to offer more programs seven days a week, including the "congregate meals".
"We did a survey among 840 people in the community and among the first thing they mentioned as a need are the mental health problems because there is a lot of loneliness, depression and isolation," adds Dionne, who says that more than 70% of the elderly go to the center of East Harlem are of Hispanic origin.
According to Zenovia Earle, DFTA spokesperson, some centers for the elderly in New York City offer mental health services through the 'ThriveNYC Geriatric Mental Health Initiative' program. "It is important to know that all people over 60 are entitled to a free evaluation by licensed clinical staff, who perform individual and group therapies, which help reduce the stigma of mental illness, because many adults Older people are not so open to talk about something like depression or anxiety. There they can offer assistance and do not need medical insurance, "explains Earle. For those elderly people who are experiencing some type of cognitive deterioration or are physically very fragile and can no longer attend the centers for the elderly, the DFTA has nine 'Discretionary Social Adult Day Programs', where they can go and in which they have support and supervision additional. There they try to keep them more active and involved in activities so they can continue to socialize.
Apart from depression, loneliness in the elderly has been associated with heart disease, hypertension and dementia, among others. New York was recognized in 2010 as an "age-friendly city" by the World Health Organization (WHO), thanks to the programs and initiatives that exist for the elderly. In the year 2040 there will be 1.86 million New Yorkers over 60 (20.6% of the population).
A 2016 study conducted by Fordham University found that centers for the elderly, both traditional and innovative (inovated senior centers), provide critical and effective services to vulnerable older people. According to the study, "the participants of the senior center said they have better physical and mental health, greater participation in health programs, frequent exercise, weight control and are physically active. Participation in a center for seniors also helped reduce social isolation. " The study also found that "members (of the center) experience better physical and mental health not only in the period of time after joining one of these centers, but they remain healthy, or even continue to improve, a year later".
Among the activities offered in the aging centers include: Classes of art, pottery, music and dance, walking, yoga and tai chi clubs. Classes to learn to control chronic diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and high cholesterol. Nutrition workshops. Assistance to enroll in insurance plans and programs such as Medicare, Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, among others. Technology classes. Recreational trips Assistance with transportation. Celebration of birthdays and holidays. Lunches (some offer breakfast).
One of the great flexibilities offered by the DFTA is that the aging New Yorkers can enroll in different senior centers at the same time, and participate in classes and programs in more than one center on the same day.
In addition to the various types of programs offered at senior centers, in New York City there are free or discounted classes for seniors at public libraries or universities.
DFTA has also created centers for the aging of the LGBT community (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender), such as the SAGE centers in the five boroughs, the Queens Center for Gay Seniors and VISIONS at Selis Manor Senior Center. The DFTA also has 120 centers located in NYCHA public buildings complexes.
On the website https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dfta/index.page you can place your zip code and find the closest one and the list of activities they offer. To contact the 'Carter Burden / Leonard Covello Senior Center' directly, you can call 212-423-9665.