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Old Louisville senior center helps combat loneliness, but it faces financial challenges

A Bible study class at the Arthur S. Kling senior center.
Divya Karthikeyan
A Bible study class at the Arthur S. Kling senior center.

Senior centers are a valuable resource for older generations who feel socially isolated.

When 77-year-old Stanley Baker gets bored of watching soap operas and Westerns on cable, he heads to the Arthur S. Kling Senior Center in Old Louisville for a game of pool or spades with other seniors.

For more than 40 years, the center has served as a meeting place for older generations and also supports people who are home-bound. It is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m to 2 p.m and provides free lunches, Bible study and cellphone classes.

Baker has been coming to the Kling senior center for about a decade.

“So it's very rewarding for seniors that want to participate and get out of the house. I mean, I sit around the house for a while sometimes, but I like to get out. I don't like to be confined all the time,” he said.

The center faces financial challenges, however, and it's at risk of closing its doors by the end of the year.

Director Emily Hellinger said it’s been hard to get grant funding, and they need the money for repairs and general operations.

Four years ago, the center was open longer hours and welcomed about 70 people every day. Since the pandemic shutdowns in 2020, the center sees 20 to 30 people a day, Hellinger said.

She hopes that with more funding, they can support more seniors.

“We would love more people. We would love more volunteers. And that's our goal, though, is just to get more so we can support more people and improve lives,” Hellinger said.

Last year, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthyissued an advisory on widespread loneliness in the country and said that the health impacts of isolation were akin to “smoking 15 cigarettes a day.”

Rita Morrow, who is a volunteer with AARP Kentucky, said discourse around health issues among older people often focus on addressing physical conditions like high blood pressure and cholesterol.

“But [we] don't often stop to look at how we are doing emotionally, are we communicating with people? I know that sometimes even those ailments can be the result of depression and being away from people can lead to depression quite easily,” Morrow said.

Social isolation was associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia, a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke, according to a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

There are options to combat loneliness. Morrow recommended that seniors volunteer with a local organization or a soup kitchen, join a church, develop intergenerational connections by volunteering in elementary schools.

It also helps to take a walk around the neighborhood, or call a friend or family member, she said. And if that’s not possible, many organizations offer call services to check on seniors, or just to chat with someone.

The AARP offers a Friendly Voice program. Seniors can call 1-888-281-0145 and leave their information to get a call back from a volunteer.

Divya is LPM's Race & Equity Reporter. Email Divya at dkarthikeyan@lpm.org.

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