Feature Article - January 2017
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Coming of Age

Shifting Trends in Design & Programming for Active Older Adults

By Rick Dandes


Designing the User Experience

Designers at Moody Nolan concentrate on offering "different levels of privacy that folks want, particularly when they're being active or exercising," Bodien said. "That means with our swimming pools, people can get in and out of the water without being on display. When working out on equipment, we offer patrons smaller group settings, for example in private rooms, particularly when they are not sure of themselves. You don't worry as much about that in a general facility."

The chief administrator at the senior center in Parker, Colo., understands the nuances of aging in his community and has responded accordingly. Aside from the pickleball craze that is sweeping the country, said Jim Cleveland, Parks, Recreation and Open Space Director, Town of Parker Parks and Recreation Department, "we have experienced growing interest in several areas, including aquatics, fitness, sports, enrichment and cultural programs."

Aqua aerobics continues to be a mainstay, Cleveland said, "but active agers love to use our lazy river and therapy pool for numerous water-based programs."

Sports programs continue to grow, he said, and for active agers the motivation to participate is much more focused on being fit instead of finishing first. The priority of winning games has given way to creating relationships with other participants. As many active agers transition to retirement, they are looking to replace relationships left behind in the workplace with new friendships and social interaction.

From a facility perspective, Cleveland suggested, operators should consider the addition of a hearing loop or telecoil, to assist patrons with hearing aids or cochlear implants. "With these systems," he said, "hearing-impaired patrons can more easily discern the sound source without background noise distracting the message. Facility enhancements like this can truly add to the enjoyment of the patron experience."

Active agers value relationships and social outings as much as the fitness and wellness aspects of recreation, Cleveland advised. While younger participants are eager to make efficient use of their visit, active agers enjoy the experience for more than just than physical benefits. Programming and facility staff need to be aware of the value of relationships with active agers and cater their service delivery to meet this expectation.

Finally, Cleveland said, "make sure your public spaces and lobbies are designed to accommodate active agers who may wish to socialize before or after their class or workout. Not only does this promote the creation of stronger ties between guests, it can build loyalty to your facility or program by creating a community among your patrons."

Remember that active agers enjoy the outdoors. "We have seen use of our trail system steadily increase as seniors enjoy walking, biking and outdoor fitness stations," Cleveland said. "Our community has experienced the formation of many self-directed walking and cycling clubs, and they often share their experiences on social media."

Finally, he said, look for ways you can engage your active agers in volunteer opportunities. "From 'adopting' public gardens to acting as trail rangers to monitor our trail network, seniors have filled an increasingly important need in our community. Our performing arts center has discovered a wealth of volunteers among the active agers. In exchange for free tickets to performances, our volunteers assist with ticket taking and ushering patrons to their seats. These volunteers love to feel valued, and they provide an essential service to our operation."