If you’ve never thought or heard about it, the idea about playgrounds for seniors may sound silly but it’s been proven to have amazing benefits for years all around the globe.
The benefits of playgrounds for children are well-known – they improve children’s coordination and motor skills, supply them with sunshine, fresh air, and plenty of interaction with their peers which is important for developing social skills and communication.
Children are not the only ones who can benefit from these things. In fact, the elderly need them as much as children, if not more. Senior citizens are typically in great need of regular if mild and informal physical activities, to both maintain, improve, and develop their fitness, and they also require frequent interpersonal relationships and communication.
Senior parks have proven to offer all these things to senior citizens quite effectively.
A playground for seniors doesn’t feature crawl-tunnels, climbing structures or swings similar to those in children’s playgrounds but they include a lot of installations that are uncommon anywhere else – low-impact equipment that helps seniors exercise their balance, muscle strength, flexibility, motor coordination, and more. This equipment can include things such as sit-up benches, low-speed treadmills, flex wheels, flex runners, cross-trainers, exercise bikes, etc. (1)
Playgrounds Are Great For Socializing
These playground parks for seniors serve another vital purpose, which is socialization. The lack of socialization for the elderly is a well-known but still unsolved problem all around the globe. (2) Playgrounds and parks can’t solve this problem alone but they do offer a lot of social interactions for the elderly as they can meet people to talk with, have tea or a quick meal in the park, share memories and stories, and socialize. With loneliness and isolation being a major problem in the lives of most senior citizens, this benefit of the playgrounds for seniors is self-evident.
As Joana Hughes, a spokesperson for the London-based agency “The Royal Parks” puts it: “While there are certainly physical health aspects to the playground, it is also there to nurture social and mental health,”
How have playgrounds for senior citizens performed around the world?
The first official playground park for seniors was created in 1995 in China. (3) Japan followed suit quickly after that as did several European countries. Spain, in particular, is very invested in the idea and has over 300 such parks in Barcelona alone. (4) The Spanish government seems to believe in these parks and for good reasons – statistics predict that between 40% and 45% of the Spanish population in 2050 will be over 60-years-old, so making sure that this age group is well taken care of is vital for the whole country.
What about the U.S.?
Senior citizen parks and playgrounds are making their way in the United States slowly but surely. There are quite a few dedicated parks for senior citizens in the country but not many of them are focused too much on physical exercises. Instead, the U.S. seems to be taking another approach by focusing on multi-generational parks that are suited to both kids and the elderly.
This is an interesting way to go about it as older people are known to easily socialize with children. (5) The two age groups communicate very well with each other and frequent contact with children is great for the happiness and mental wellbeing of older people. That’s why a lot of people also employ older people as babysitters when they are away so building dedicated park areas that serve both groups does have a lot of merits.
The downside of this approach is that a lot of anti-social senior citizens don’t want to have to interact with children nor with the parents that accompany them. Instead, seniors-only playgrounds and parks seem to attract more elderly people.
Overall, both types of parks are very beneficial and a good mixture of both seems to be the best solution.
Are there private sector solutions?
People don’t need to rely only on their local government to create parks and playgrounds for senior citizens. There are also non-profit organizations such as KaBOOM! that specialize in helping communities building such playgrounds, although the focus so far has been mostly toward children. (6)
Nevertheless, the positive effects of KaBOOM!’s work are undeniable. The non-profit excels at retrofitting abandoned and isolated parks into multigenerational havens for people looking for both physical activities and socialization. To this day, KaBOOM! has helped build over 53 such parks all around the country.
Sarah Pinksy, the Director of Client Services at KaBOOM! said in front of the Huffington Post that “Play is a great connector for adults and seniors and the children in their lives. In addition to the cognitive and physical benefits of play, it can also reduce stress in adults and is proven to help combat toxic stress in kids,” (7)
Similarly, Colin Milner, the CEO of the International Council on Active Aging said to the Wall Street Journal that “These environments can be highly social. There’s something positive and invigorating about that, especially if the children have moved away or a spouse has passed on.” (8)
Vital for the reduction of hospitalizations
With medical bills and healthcare being such a hot topic in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world, reducing the hospitalization of senior citizens is a priority for most countries. Fortunately, playgrounds and parks for seniors have been proven to have an amazing effect for that as well. Both the physical activity and the social interaction provided by such parks and areas have detrimental effects on the health of senior citizens.
Even just as a cause for someone to leave their home and sit on a bench for a while, these parks are very effective. As Stephen Holmes, a commissioner in the Galveston County, Texas, said after the county spent over $36,000 to reequip Carbide Park for the elderly citizens, “As we get to an aging population — those over 65 — you start looking at some of the major causes for hospitalization. Much like you see kids gathering at playgrounds, I’m hoping to see the same thing with seniors here, gathering at playgrounds and creating a social aspect for them.” (9)
All this is just a drop in the water compared to what’s needed if we’re to achieve a meaningful change in our society. Most of the elderly people in the Western world are still suffering from isolation and its devastating effects. Still, every single park helps so, hopefully, the trend will continue.