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

According to the Administration for Community Living, there were over 1.4 million seniors (60+) residing in Tennessee in 2015. Of those seniors, 210,984 were minorities and 142,223 lived below the poverty level. Additionally, the 2010 census found that 475,271 were living in rural areas, where services and resources are not as readily available. As the Baby Boomer generation ages into the senior citizen demographic, the demand for resources and centers for seniors is rapidly rising.

Middle Tennessee senior centers – many of which are nonprofits – meet a myriad of needs and work diligently to find engaging programming to serve aging adults in our community. With medical advances increasing the average lifespan, there is a growing need for services to keep this large population active and independent at an affordable cost.

Unfortunately, not everyone in our community is able to reach the programs that are available. The lack of widespread public transportation in Middle Tennessee remains a barrier, as many seniors do not own cars or can no longer drive. This provides even more of a challenge for seniors living in rural counties, as senior centers are often spread out and sometimes have to serve multiple communities.

While aging independently and in one’s own home is the strong preference of most seniors, physical and cognitive health concerns make services like live-in assistance, transportation and meal delivery a necessity for many seniors. Many homes also need considerable and costly repairs to make them senior-friendly, including wheelchair ramps and handicap showers. When staying at home is no longer a viable option, quality long-term family care, nursing or retirement home care, or respite care that allows people to age with dignity become necessary.

There are currently several helpful resources available to seniors in our community, such as the Council on Aging's Directory of Services for Seniors. This directory, which is updated and distributed every other year, provides valuable information on services for older adults in thirteen Middle Tennessee counties. These services include education, caregivers, legal counsel, emergency assistance, employment, and more.

Services for seniors are typically funded, regulated and monitored by the government or through grants from foundations. As the Baby Boomer population ages, these services are in higher demand now more than ever, making funding extremely competitive.

“All across Tennessee, each and every day, nonprofits and governmental agencies are working hard to make the path easier for our growing but vulnerable senior population. From Lake County to Bradley County, from Memphis to Elizabethton, we know that the needs of our aging population are often unrecognized or underfunded,” said Ellen Lehman, President of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

In 2016, The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee administered $5 million in grants to 121 organizations serving seniors through the settlement of a lawsuit initiated by Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper against both SeniorTrust and ElderTrust.


Serving TN Seniors


“The grants we were able to make last for only six months but span a broad range of needs, including: providing nutritious meals to the homebound, providing safe access to senior centers, providing dentures, providing transportation, providing wellness and educational activities, and fixing homes so that residents can age in their own homes,” concluded Lehman.


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 to help:


Updated 9/26/17 by Kathryn Bennett