CEO Maria Zamora highlights health benefits of socialization for seniors

Oakland’s Center for Elders’ Independence CEO compares mental health exercise to physical health
Center for Elders’ Independence CEO Maria Zamora. (Photo credit: Rashad Milligan for rolling out)

People need people.

This age-old phrase rings true, especially in a senior day center. At the Center for Elders’ Independence‘s 40th anniversary, CEO Maria Zamora told rolling out just how important interaction is for better living.


Why is socialization so essential for seniors, especially during a pandemic?

It’s incredibly important. This is something that we’ve known here at the Center for Elders’ Independence, even before the pandemic. The pandemic really highlighted and emphasized just how critical it is for seniors to engage in socialization. Prolonged isolation has the equivalency of smoking 15 cigarettes a day for seniors in terms of health outcomes. So it’s really important for seniors to stay, not only active but engaged with other humans. That socialization piece is very important.


What advice do you have for a caretaker who’s trying to decide when and if they want to send their parent to a day center or senior home?

Well, first of all, what I’d like to do is thank them. Caring for our seniors, even though it’s an act of love, is incredibly hard work. What I would say is that it’s just as important for them to care for their own health. That’s why a program like the PACE program or programs of all-inclusive care for the elderly – which is what we do here at CEI – is so important for those family caregivers. We give them a little bit of a rest. It allows them to say, “OK. My loved one, my mother, my father, my grandmother, grandfather, can go to a safe space, be well cared for, have nutritious meals, participate in activities, go to a senior gym to exercise, see their doctor, while I go and can either take a break or get back to my normal work schedule.”

A lot of people are transitioning from work at home back to offices. This is where we really can support those family caregivers. We don’t take their place, but we want to support them in continuing to give that good care. It’s why we’re here. It’s why we do what we do. What’s really beautiful about the PACE model. And the work we do here at CEI is we treat the whole person.

Why are you so passionate about this work?

That’s a good question. At a very young age, I had the opportunity to be very involved with my grandmother. My mother and I would go [visit], she was within walking distance from my home. Her husband, my grandfather, passed earlier on, and we would go almost daily to see her. I also had the benefit of having elderly neighbors, we lived on a small dead-end street, and I would actually just go visit them. So I got to see the benefit and wisdom of engaging with elders from a very young age.

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