Easing Loneliness: Seniors find companionship at Optum centers

Sheila Asroff, left, and Kathy Tomasewski laugh as they play Scrabble at Optum Community Center in Chandler. (David Minton/Staff)

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

When Sheila Asroff lost her husband of 51 years as well as her brother, she found herself isolated, depressed and living alone.

She found solace in the Optum Community Center in her Chandler neighborhood. There, she enjoys nutrition and stress management, line dancing and Zumba classes. Spending up to six hours a day at Optum, she formed a puzzle group to keep her mind occupied.

“It’s a new life for me,” Asroff says. “This has just been a wonderful rebuilding. I’ve made friends. I’ve had things that I can do that I like very much. I’ve expanded into even more things that they’ve offered me. It’s been a highlight of the last two years.”

Like the Chandler location, Optum Community Centers offer capability-adaptable fitness equipment, classes and living room space — all free for anyone 55 and older, regardless of their connection to Optum.

Optum community center activities are led by local experts in their respective fields. Certified personal trainers teach Pilates, chair yoga, Zumba and tai chi; native speakers host foreign language classes; and dietitians lead nutrition information workshops. Social opportunities include movie nights and a comfortable living room with tables for cards and other games. For a complete listing of activities, visit optum.com.

“It got me out of the house,” Asroff says. “That was one of the things that was very difficult for me. I had just moved here and nowhere to go. I like to work out and they have wonderful stretch classes and line dancing classes, and Zumba classes, which I had done for years.

“When I would come out of the class, I would have all these different things to do in the living room, like puzzles. I became very much interested in that and made some really wonderful friends, which was important, too. We have become so close by bonding over puzzles. We give each other our home numbers, so just in case one of us doesn’t come, we shouldn’t worry.”

In turn, Asroff’s family is no longer concerned about her being lonely.

“They know I found something that keeps me going,” she added. “I could sit at home and could do nothing and vegetate and have them worry about me.

“They have my Optum phone number because I can tell them if they can’t find me at home, they can find me here. Recently, we had a retro party and I brought them here just to see it. This is a gift to me and a gift to this community.”

Additionally, wellness exams, such as annual checkups, retinal imaging, bone density tests and neuropathy tests, are provided at the centers specifically for Optum members. To learn about how to become an Optum member, call 1-866-358-8295 or visit optumcare.com/az.
Optum Community Centers are open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Friday with locations in East Mesa, Chandler, Goodyear, Phoenix, Deer Valley and Tucson.

In addition to community centers, Optum is a medical network with primary care doctors throughout the Valley and Tucson. The network includes a wide range of contracted primary care physicians and hospitals serving Medicare Advantage patients.

Asroff said if it wasn’t for Optum, she would be in assisted living — and she wanted to avoid that.

“My mother was in assisted living,” she explained. “There, they just sit there doing nothing. Nobody cares very much about what you’re doing. What really bugged me was the fact that children put their parents in and they don’t come and visit. When I used to visit my mother, people would be sitting by the elevator, waiting for visitors.”

At Optum, she says, she feels 10 years younger than her 84 years.
Ben Brock, Optum’s director of community centers, says Asroff is the perfect representation of a center participant.

“That’s the whole intention: We want a place where people can come and engage in meaningful, purposeful activities,” Brock says. “They can find things that help benefit them, whether it’s stimulating their brain or whether it’s just supporting them emotionally.
“They can do it in an atmosphere that’s very social. She came for the exercise classes because that’s what she’s into. As she makes friends, she starts hosting puzzle clubs. Now she’s doing Scrabble. We very intentionally design into our programming that causes people like Sheila to start taking more and more advantage of additional classes.”

Brock says he understands the importance of the Optum Community Centers.

“It’s just part of human nature — to want that social connection,” he says. “As we start to retire and maybe get a little bit older, those opportunities for social connections start decreasing. As we retire, that need for social interaction starts going away. So, we have the opportunity to do things that you might do in your house in a group setting.

“This is really what differentiates us between assisted living, skilled nursing homes. We very intentionally create our programs and our programming to help people improve in a specific health care outcome. We have classes that help improve eating habits, to decrease osteoporosis or help manage blood pressure, or to help manage stress and anxiety.
“We offer the best of the best. We don’t want to waste people’s time. We’re very intentionally trying to facilitate people to improve their own health.”

Optum Community Centers
• 1125 E. Glendale Avenue, Phoenix
• 6005 E. Southern Avenue, Mesa
• 985 W. Chandler Heights Road,
Suite 12, Chandler
• 1981 N. Pebble Creek Parkway,
Suite 8, Goodyear
• 20414 N. 27th Avenue, first floor,
• 4780 E. Grant Road, Tucson