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At Edgewater fair, seniors unite in pursuit of health

48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman at the 2013 Senior Fair. Credit: 48th Ward / Facebook

48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman at the 2013 Senior Fair. Credit: 48th Ward / Facebook

Tall, straight-backed and energetic, Benia Davis doesn’t look 75 years old. He says he doesn’t feel it either.

But when the semi-retired beauty parlor owner received a flyer in his mailbox announcing that 48th Ward Alderman Harry Osterman was hosting Edgewater’s 13th annual Senior Health Fair, he decided to visit the Broadway Armory to check it out. Davis’ sole health complaint – an arthritic knee – already costs him $500 per checkup, and he knows that his bills will increase as he ages.

“As we get old, unless you got a lot of money, it’s very difficult,” said Davis, who spoke in a careful Mississippi drawl and wore a crystal stud in his left ear. “Most seniors are very shy. They don’t know a lot about these things.”

Davis said he went to the fair to network with the 500 other attendees, as well as educate himself on the various resources available to him as a senior citizen. Assistants to the alderman Ginger Williams and Jerry Goodman asked dozens of organizations to set up booths promoting those resources, which included at-home heart monitor systems and social initiatives such as community meetings and online meet-up groups.

A 2012 report published by Archives of Internal Medicine found that loneliness correlated with an increased risk of death in patients over 60 years of age (22.8 percent vs. 14.2 percent for those under 60), as well as dementia and other mental illnesses. Several fairgoers and volunteers cited the importance of social initiatives to prevent isolation among the Edgewater elderly.

“I will officially be a senior in June,” said Patricia Downs, a 64-year-old AARP volunteer, “but there are all sorts of things I didn’t know about until I started working these booths.” Downs became an organ donor at her last fair. She said she was especially excited to educate Edgewater seniors about AARP’s online membership programs, because it’s important for seniors to stay involved in the community.

20th District Commander James E. Jones, who worked at the fair’s Police Department booth, said that loneliness adds to the dangers elderly people face, making them easy targets for criminals in addition to being at increased risk for mental illness. “After a while they step back and say, ‘I’m too old,’” he said. “Then they run the risk of getting disconnected.”

A conga line of elderly clowns provided the fair’s entertainment. These were members of the City of Chicago Senior Citizen Clown Troupe, which performs at several Chicago area events per month.

“What did you say?” asked 93-year-old Robert Solomon, a retired copywriter who said he is in perfect health other than hearing loss and a gradual ‘slowing down.’ “Oh, yes. Clowning is the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s already made me live longer.”

The Senior Citizen Clown Troupe met through a clowning class at the Renaissance Court senior center, and now performs exclusively at senior citizen events and retirement homes.


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