My mother jokes that she is older than she ought to be. She is a spunky senior who can still travel and enjoy volunteer work. Yet she recently confessed, "I've had it with the holidays."
For mom, it was the shopping. Then I realized that many older people with physical impairments can't cope with crowds, transportation or even gift wrapping. Furthermore, the emphasis on family and festivities makes the season difficult for seniors who are alone or recently bereaved. But there is help available.
Seniors who still have not explored local senior centers are missing a good bet. Besides offering entertainment and volunteer opportunities, senior programs are a gold mine of information and services. During the holidays and throughout the year, these groups and affiliated organizations provide a range of services that make life easier for older people. But they depend largely on senior volunteers for their success. Throughout the county these volunteers are helping fellow seniors cope with the holidays and even enjoy them.
Last week Helen McClain, 74, and Leone Sagehorn, 70, from the Ojai Christian Women's Club, helped elderly and disabled shoppers and wrapped gifts during special shopping hours at the Target store in Ventura. Club member Wanda Emmert, 70, spent more than 2 1/2 hours assisting an older woman named Mildred with holiday purchases.
"Because of a stroke, Mildred used a leg brace and crutch. I pushed the basket and helped her with sizes and prices. Since I'm familiar with the store, I planned our route so we wouldn't have to crisscross so much. Then we got her gifts wrapped," Emmert said. "I enjoyed it very much. You just can't imagine how appreciative she was. Mildred can't get out much and was delighted to find a pretty robe for herself too."
For different reasons, adult children (often seniors themselves) who are caring for aging parents experience more stress at this time of year. According to Sherry Williams, administrator of the Camarillo Health Care District, care-givers often feel that they need extra help. "If the parent has Alzheimer's, sometimes other family members don't understand or help," she said.
"There is also the loneliness factor and restricted travel for the care-giver," Williams said. She stressed the role of support groups in preparing people for the holidays and in offering respite. In many communities trained senior volunteers provide that help so a care-giver can run errands or have time off.
Some senior centers offer social stimulation or in-home help to the elderly through visitation, or phone buddy programs. The Friendly Visitor Program of the Conejo Valley Senior Concerns is one of several in the county that matches participants according to common interests. Volunteer Olga Barth and her friend both love music, so Barth plays the piano during their time together.
Bob Edwards, 74, is also a "friendly visitor." He retired from the Navy in 1953 and from GTE eight years ago. "You have to keep busy, you know. A lot of people need help," he said. Eighty-three-year-old Mabel Erdman enjoys her conversations with Edwards. "He's a wonderful fellow," she said. "You can be in the deepest depression, and he takes me right out of it." Erdman especially enjoys hearing about Edwards' naval experiences. He, in turn, says it helps him as much as it does Erdman. "We shoot the breeze. It's revitalizing."
Your local senior center can provide information and referrals for senior resources. Transportation, peer counseling, companion programs, adult day care and support groups are just a few of the services available. Be sure to request details on holiday parties and trips.
* Ojai: Boyd Senior Multipurpose Center, 510 Park Road, 646-1872.
* Camarillo: Camarillo Senior Center, 1605 E. Burnley St., 482-4881.
* Oxnard: Colonia Senior Multipurpose Center, 126 B Amelia Court, 984-4632, Ventura Council on Aging Senior Center, 4917 S. Rose Ave., 986-1424, Wilson Senior Center, 350 North C St., 984-4645.
* Fillmore: Fillmore Senior Center, 533 Santa Clara St., 524-4533.
* Thousand Oaks: Goebel Senior Center, 110 S. Conejo School Road, 495-6471.
* Simi Valley: Larwin Community Center, 1692 Sycamore Drive, 527-5240; Simi Valley Senior Center, 3900 Avenida Simi, 526-9237.
* Piru: Piru Community Center, 802 N. Orchard St., 521-1333.
* Port Hueneme: Port Hueneme Senior Center, 500 N. Park Ave., 986-6542 or 986-6596.
* Santa Paula: Santa Paula Community Center, 530 W. Main St., 933-4263.
* Ventura: YMCA Senior Recreation Center, 3760 Telegraph Road, 642-2131; Ventura Senior Recreational Center, 420 E. Santa Clara St., 648-2829.