The Center for Healthy Aging in Santa Monica has volunteers who are 90 years old, says Dr. Monika White, Center for Healthy Aging president and chief executive officer.

“It’s about staying connected,” White says. “Staying connected is critically important to healthy aging.”

According to U.S. Census Bureau statistics, there are about 72,000 centenarians (those 100 or more years old) in the U.S. and they are believed to be the fastest- growing segment of the population.

White says studies show that the majority of people who live to an advanced age share common behaviors. She says they:

n stay engaged or involved in life and find ways to be around people;

n have a sense of humor;

n have a sense of hope and look forward to the next day;

n have an ability to cope with loss; and

n have an ability to cope with stress and reduce it.

White says her center works with people who are aging well, as well as those struggling to age well, by linking them to the resources they need, helping them manage their money, and visiting those who are homebound so they have a link to another person.

As people age and lose a spouse, siblings and even children, White says isolation becomes a risk and it’s important to find ways to connect with others.

Staying connected has helped senior citizen and painter Olaf Pooley survive loss and remain creative.

Pooley goes to his studio in Santa Monica, a shared space with other artists, four to five days a week and spends six to seven hours there.

Pooley says isolation is one of the reasons he’s in the studio.

“If I didn’t have painting or companionship I’d be a sorry old man, and I don’t think of myself that way at all,” he says.

He is working overtime to prepare for a showing of his paintings, and those by other artists.

The exhibit is planned from 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, November 6th, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday November 7th, at 1834 Franklin St., Santa Monica. Information on the exhibition, (310) 234-1225.

Pooley says that through painting, he feels “a liberation from doing nothing.”

Pooley adds that going to a studio has the enormous advantage of offering companionship and helps a lot in terms of his quality of life.

Finding a sense of purpose is important, according to Nancy Hayes, chief executive officer of WISE Senior Services in Santa Monica.

WISE is a nonprofit organization that works to preserve independence, well-being, self-esteem and dignity in seniors. Hayes encourages people who come to her to find something that speaks to them to keep them active and engaged.

Wanting to keep seniors living independently as long as possible, WISE offers many services such as case management for isolated seniors living at home with no support system.

“We go into the home, make an assessment and arrange for meals to be delivered or we connect that person with the appropriate services to help them continue living independently,” Hayes says.

WISE also offers adult day care for those who can’t be left alone due to frailty or Alzheimer’s disease.

Hayes says studies show that day care, and the interaction it brings, can extend a person’s quality of life and life span.

Living independently often has to do with transportation and WISE manages the city’s Dial-a-Ride program. For 50 cents, a senior can ride anywhere in Santa Monica for any reason, not just for medical appointments, because “they need a bigger quality of life,” Hayes says.

Advocacy is an important part of WISE and the organization works to protect seniors from elder abuse and real estate and telemarketing fraud.

Hayes says affordable housing, health insurance and finances are other issues vital to healthy aging and WISE can assist seniors in these areas.

WISE has programs for active seniors too, helping all to have a rich life for as long as possible.

Other programs for active seniors can be found at the city senior center.

“We provide exercise classes, dances, trips and special events,” says Anita Ybarra, City of Santa Monica Senior Recreation Center principal community services supervisor.

“We celebrate birthdays, show movies and provide a hot nutritional lunch for those 60 and over. It keeps those who come active and vital,” Ybarra says. “A lot of participants don’t have family and we know their name and get concerned when we don’t see them.”

She says the center has someone buddy up with a new person who comes to the center to help newcomers feel welcome.

Homebound or active, Santa Monica offers seniors many ways to stay engaged helping them achieve a richer quality of life.

“I tell those younger than me to do something, almost anything, just do it,” Pooley says.

Information:

Center for Healthy Aging, (310) 576-2550;

WISE, (310) 394-9871 or

wiseseniors.org

City of Santa Monica Senior Center, (310) 458-8644.

Julie Kirst can be reached at jkmailtalk@yahoo.com

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