Caring for Tennessee's Aging Population: Elder Care and Senior Centers

Senior centers across the United States are preparing for a wave of hip baby-boomers. Tai chi and ballroom dancing classes, health and wellness workshops, genealogy seminars, cultural activities and travel, art lessons, community theater and computer classes are just a few of the offerings at nonprofit senior centers in Middle Tennessee – and are examples that, in the words of Bob Dylan indicate that “the times they are a-changin'” (Bob turned 70 in 2011, by the way).

Middle Tennessee senior centers – some of which are nonprofits – meet a myriad of needs and work diligently to find exciting programming to attract today’s senior. With medical advances increasing the average lifespan, there is a growing need for services to keep this large population active, engaged and independent longer. Developers say Middle Tennessee is a hotspot for retirees because of its climate, central location, favorable tax policies and abundance of healthcare facilities.

"The concept of retirement is evolving," says Pat Schnieder, a senior center director in an interview with the Administration on Aging in 2003. "Many boomers will continue to work either full-time or part-time as they age. They're not going to come and spend the day at a senior center. Instead, they'll pick, choose and pay for classes scheduled during evening and weekend hours at different sites including libraries and other community buildings."

But not everyone in our community is reaching the programs that are available; the lack of widespread public transportation in our area remains a barrier, as many seniors do not own cars or can no longer drive. Further, health concerns make the use of “drop-in” senior centers an impossibility for many.

While growing old independently and in one’s own home is the strong preference of most seniors, physical and cognitive health concerns make full-time assistance a necessity for many seniors. While modern medicine has allowed seniors to live longer by preventing disease, many live with impaired health. When seniors lose the ability to adequately function on their own, many require additional help in the home. For others, staying at home often becomes difficult or impossible, and long-term family care, nursing or retirement home care, or respite care is necessary.

The Council on Aging's Directory of Services for Seniors provides valuable information on services for older adults in Middle Tennessee. These services include education, caregivers, emergency assistance, adult day services, employment, and more. More information can be found at

Currently, long-term care is (partially) funded, regulated and monitored by the government. However, with the increasing demand for these services, available funds will surely be further limited in the future. cautions, “Seniors who need care need help which can be costly. Personal support workers are not government regulated, and they interact with a vulnerable segment of the population. Seniors are vulnerable to greater risk such as physical, mental or financial abuse, unreported accidents, theft, neglect, etc. Impaired mobility is a major concern, and they need to be kept mentally and physically active if possible. Community service agencies are available to assist, and the options should be investigated before the need arises.”

One common concern of relatives is that their elderly loved one will deteriorate quickly if they leave their own home. It is known that mortality rates are high when people initially move to long-term care facilities – a good deal of research shows that between 50%-60% of people admitted to care homes die within the first 2 years. Evidence also shows that people with dementia who are admitted to psychogeriatric nursing homes and care facilities die relatively quickly. However, high mortality rates in nursing homes are, in many ways, expected, as people admitted to a nursing home would most likely be sicker and in need of greater care than those able to remain in their own homes.

Children of seniors can feel like they belong to the “sandwich generation,” raising children of their own as well as looking after an elderly parent. Caregiving for elders can be expensive as costs add up for personal consumable supplies, the cost of modifying a home to accommodate an individual with disabilities or limited mobility, safety bathroom apparatus, etc. This can have a significant economic impact, along with mental and emotional tolls, on a “sandwiched family.”

The elderly population is the fastest growing population group in America, and is also at the highest risk for needing care. Elder care is a vital and necessary part of looking after our loved ones. Finding and supporting programs for our elders to age as safely, actively, and independently as possible will help improve the quality of life for our aging population.


The Numbers:


65 & Older Population   (2000)

65 & Older Population

Cheatham 3,085 4,366
Davidson 63,444 68,368
Dickson 5,069 6,179
Hickman 2,669 3,429
Maury 8,366 10,923
Robertson 5,887 7,590
Rutherford 13,622 21,656
Sumner        13,916 19,629
Williamson    9,811 16,570
Wilson 8,580 13,186



















The population of adults age 65 and over in the United States increased from 20 million in 2000 to 35 million in 2010, and is projected to increase another 36% to 55 million by 2020. By 2030, there will be about 72.1 million older persons, more than twice the number in 2000, making up 19% of the population, according to the Administration on Aging (AoA).

The 85+ population increased from 4.2 million in 2000 to 5.7 million in 2010. An additional 15% increase is expected by the AoA, meaning 6.6 million Americans over 85 years of age in 2020.

At 8 million individuals, minority populations made up 21% of all citizens over the age of 65, and are projected to increase to 12.9 million in 2020.



The Need:

  • Without flexible transportation, many seniors lack the ability to get to senior centers, appointments and stores on their own. Transportation is a barrier for individuals without cars or living away from bus lines.
  • Home caregivers, most of whom are unpaid family members, struggle to balance their own lives with the needs of their frail relative.
  • Centers must ramp up their offerings to attract healthier, more active seniors through programs such as travel, volunteer work, computer, fitness and language classes.
  • Adult day care subsidy is often necessary for low- and fixed-income seniors, who may need help with annual membership fees.
  • While Davidson County has several dozen senior centers and community centers with senior activities, rural counties may have only one.


How You Can Help:

  • Purchase new computers and equipment for senior centers.
  • Expand transportation options such as vans, bus passes or taxi vouchers.
  • Subsidize respite care for a family.
  • Give money for nonprofit staff and facility costs.
  • Support a food program at a senior center.
  • Sponsor special activities or guest speakers at a senior center.
  • Help senior centers expand programming to address the wide range of senior issues with innovative services.
  • Sponsor a public awareness campaign highlighting the talents of seniors and their contributions to society.


More Stories and Resources: 

Council on Aging's Directory of Services for Seniors in Middle Tennessee


National Council on Aging

For referral to services: United Way 2-1-1

Improving Long-Term Care Services in Tennessee: Meeting the Changing Needs of a Growing Population (AARP Tennessee, 2006)