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Study: San Diego Senior Centers Unprepared For Over 65 Population Surge

Seniors enjoy a knitting group at the Ed Brown Senior Center at Rancho Bernar...

Photo by Priya Sridhar

Above: Seniors enjoy a knitting group at the Ed Brown Senior Center at Rancho Bernardo in San Diego on August 27, 2019.

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By 2030, one in four people living in San Diego County will be a senior citizen and many will be "senior orphans."

Aired: August 28, 2019 | Transcript

Elly Leslie lost her husband 11 years ago and none of her four children live close to her home.

The 87-year-old San Diegan is considered a "senior orphan," someone over the age of 65 with no immediate family close by. This cohort makes up nearly a third of San Diego's ever-expanding senior population and the region is unprepared to serve them, according to a new study by the San Diego Seniors Community Foundation.

There are almost half a million people in San Diego County over the age of 65 and the number will hit 1 million by 2030, the study said.

Currently, San Diego County has 28 senior centers that serve only 8% of the area's total senior population, according to the study. Nearly a quarter of the centers have no full-time employees and 21 were built more than 30 years ago.

Bob Kelly, the foundation's president, said more must be done.

"If society doesn't deal with it on the front end by keeping people mentally healthy, physically healthy, socially healthy and financially healthy ... we're going to end up taking care of them in other facilities," Kelly said.

Leslie found the Ed Brown Senior Center at Rancho Bernardo three years ago and has been a loyal member ever since. She takes tap dancing and fitness classes every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.

"When you're a senior, you have to keep moving, moving, moving," she said. "You can't just sit on the sofa and eat bonbons. You have to be around people."

For $190 a year, Leslie has access to more than 30 classes and activities available at the senior center. The center's $80,000 annual operating budget comes mostly from membership fees of their approximately 300 members and fundraising events, said Lynn Wolsey who volunteers as the executive director of the center.

She says the center plays a vital role for keeping seniors connected with one another.

"Isolation is a big problem. It's not just a mental health problem, it's a physical health problem as well because people who are lonely get depressed and people who are depressed don't eat properly, they get sick," Wolsey said. "We serve that need."

Listen to this story by Priya Sridhar.

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