Playgrounds For Older Adults Boost Activity, Decrease Loneliness

Mental and physical health are important and should be nurtured regardless of age, but it seems that we should pay special attention in the case of the most fragile, which involves little children, and seniors.

Playgrounds are places where parents can take children to get some fresh air, enjoy the sunshine, interact with peers, and thus boost their motor skills, socialization and communication skills.

Yet, this can also be very beneficial for the elderly as well, as they have more in common with tender children than with any other age groups. They also need to develop their bodies, socialize, and boost interpersonal relationships.

People can become socially isolated for various reasons, and aging and getting weaker is among the most common ones. Yet, regardless of the cause, it’s shockingly easy to be left feeling alone and vulnerable, and this can rapidly cause a serious decline in physical health and wellbeing.

Loneliness and social isolation are growing public-health concerns for people of all ages, but they especially affect seniors. The latest National Poll on Healthy Aging found that about a third of seniors are lonely.

Chronic loneliness affects their physical well-being, mental health, memory, and life expectancy. Some research even suggests that it may shorten life expectancy even more than being overweight or sedentary, and just as much as smoking.

Researchers have found that loneliness can lead to a range of health issues that could threaten longevity and well-being, including higher risks of heart attacks, strokes, depression, anxiety, and early death.

On the other hand, these senior parks feature low-impact equipment which helps them improve muscle strength, motor coordination, balance and flexibility, and might include exercise bikes, cross-trainers, flex runners, flex wheels, sit-up benches, and low-speed treadmills. Moreover, they can solve their loneliness and isolation issues.

Joana Hughes, a spokeswoman for The Royal Parks, a London-based park management agency, explains that these parks nurture their social and mental health as well, despite the various physical health aspects.

In the last couple of decades, playgrounds for seniors are a common sight throughout Asia and Europe.  In 1995, China set up a park to serve as a recreational area for seniors and was immediately followed by Japan and several European countries.

Yet, even though there are parks exclusive to seniors only, the United States is taking a different approach for the most part and opens multi-generational parks, suited for both seniors and children.

The elderly enjoy the company of children, and both groups interact more affably with one another.

KaBOOM! is an American non-profit organization that helps communities build playgrounds for children, and teamed up with the Humana Foundation to refurbish and rebuild old, abandoned parks.

They’ve built over 53 multigenerational parks across the country to serve hundreds of thousands of children and seniors. Sarah Pinksy, Director of Client Services at KaBOOM!, claimed that play is a great connector for adults and seniors and the children. Play has multiple cognitive and physical benefits, relieves stress in adults and combats toxic stress in kids.

Colin Milner, CEO of the International Council on Active Aging added that such environments are highly social, and have positive and invigorating effects.

Exercise and outdoor activities lower the rates of hospitalization and old-age symptoms in the elderly.

The City of La Marque, Galveston County, Texas, spent over $36,000 in 2014 to equip the Carbide Park for the elderly, and it now offers fitness steps, fitness ramps, cobweb floors, zig-zag pipe, throttle bar, stretching boards, seated bar grabs, and several other machines useful for maintaining mobility, flexibility, and boosting balance.

Stephen Holmes, a commissioner in the county, says that he expects seeing more seniors in these parks, socializing and improving their physical shape.

These parks are recreational spaces that will effectively help the elderly to combat loneliness and symptoms associated with inactivity, while the company of children will provide countless mental health and overall wellbeing benefits.

Dr. Carla Perissinotto, associate chief of clinical programs in geriatrics at the University of California San Francisco, says that fortunately, loneliness can be reversed.

Therefore, we should determine the best way to do so, and multigenerational parks are believed to be among the most efficient ways to improve the state of the elderly.