Web Exclusive - May 2015
Find a printable version here

Programming Across the Ages

An Inclusive Attitude Gets Active Adults & Seniors Involved

By Jessica Royer Ocken

Design with ability in mind: Consider the layout of your facility and make sure those who are the least mobile or least fit don't have to travel the farthest or up the most stairs to get to the parts of the building they're interested in. "I always put the heaviest weights at the back of the gym," Milner said with a laugh. "Keep the lighter ones up front where they're easier to find."

And speaking of weights, if you're purchasing new equipment, make sure what you choose will be useable by everyone you want to bring into your facility. By age 80, nearly half of people can't lift 10 pounds, he noted. So if your new strength equipment has 10 pounds as the lowest setting, you've just spent a lot of money on something a chunk of your audience can't use.

Just do some careful thinking, Milner suggested. Are your signs and flyers printed with an easily readable font? Is your music too loud for friendly conversation? Are your treadmills so tall that some may need adapters to get on them safely? Also, include those using the facility in your assessment process. If there's a particular population you're trying to reach out to (such as active adults or seniors), have them "be your eyes and ears," he said. Give them a clipboard and have them walk through your center and take some notes about what they like and don't like—and you could have them do this with your competition as well.

Consider how you market: Casting a broad, inclusive net is going to be your best bet here as well. Those in the 50-to-65 age bracket are likely computer proficient and able to access marketing that comes via social media or the internet. The Summit advertises on Facebook specifically for this group. But if you focus all your advertising dollars on your website, you may miss older adults who prefer more concrete means of acquiring information. Summit staffers also make frequent appearances at community health fairs and other in-person opportunities to "get the word out" about their facility, said Long.

Henderson, Nev., promotes programming for older adults in their citywide catalogs, and they also make sure offerings are announced in their facilities themselves via signage and flyers. And while many patrons register for classes online with the catalog as a guide, at the Downtown Senior Center and Heritage Park Senior Facility, the bulk of registration happens in person at the front desk.

Ultimately, we've reached the point where openness and attention to the older adult population will benefit both facility owners and facility users. The more people you can involve in a healthier lifestyle, the more successful your center will be. And not only is the over-50 population growing, noted Milner, it's already the segment with the most disposable income. "Numbers, dollars, it's all in your favor except for your mindset," he said. "That's what's keeping you from being successful with this group."

But if you can make the leap, there's likely a hefty reward. The Summit signed up 5,000 members in its first year and is going strong, reported Rick Herold, Parks and Recreation Director for Grand Prairie. "This is a group that refuses to age, but continues to reinvent themselves," he said. "We're transcending the active aging market."