The world population continues to grow older rapidly. When the global population reached 7 billion in 2012, 562 million (or 8%) were aged 65 and over. In 2015, 3 years later, the older population rose by 55 million and the proportion of the older population reached 8.5% of the total population. From 2025 to 2050, the older population is projected to almost double to 1.6 billion globally, whereas the total population will grow by just 34% over the same period.
With physical activity being an important factor in health, agility, and quality of life, and people, how can we ensure meaningful places for older people to participate, enjoy, and feel the glee and benefits of being active? Here are a few design considerations to consider, but as with any placemaking process, be sure to gather older citizens for placemaking meetings when formulating a plan.
Include safe, attractive and peaceful gardens, with shelters, conversational seating nooks, and wide walking paths. Providing a peaceful place to walk, reflect, and gather can help older people. Are there places where communal raised planters can be provided? Many seniors live in apartment style homes where there is no option to garden, giving them a place to grow and tend small gardens can increase physical activity, motor skills, endurance, while reducing stress and promoting relaxation, social interaction, and wellbeing.
Program the space with active equipment designed for inspirational fitness. The benefits of giving older people the opportunity to workout in a free, outdoor, public setting is immeasurable. Be sure the equipment offers a well-rounded workout and don’t forget elements to develop and maintain balance and flexibility, they are the top concerns of aging people to help them avoid inadvertent and potentially life-threatening falls.
Offer areas to game and gather. Providing tables and seating where people can play games like chess, cards, bocce and ping-pong, or just visit and share a meal is an amenity that will be welcomed. While sitting for prolonged periods of time is not desirable, providing places to sit and enjoy company and the environment will help prolong the overall visit and potentially inspire additional periods of post rest active behavior.
Encourage acoustic performance with music. According to the book Natural Harmony: An Instrumental Guide to Blending Outdoor Music and Community, playing and listening to music can have tremendously positive effects on seniors, both physically and emotionally. They can promote memory enhancement, group socialization, and brain stimulation through learning to play. Outdoor musical instruments are available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and tones, and including cues to encourage people to dance, move, or just listen can widen the circle of participation.
Augment the surface. While attenuating surfaces are often thought of as an element for child’s play spaces, the same benefits can extend to areas designed for older people. Fall attenuation properties of surfaces can mitigate injuries to those who fall. They can also be programmed with exciting activities. Think piano keys or footprints to teach dance steps in musical areas, large game boards to encourage life-size role play, exercise elements like agility ladders, stepping dots, or hopscotch for trip-free exercising opportunities in fitness areas. The design options and benefits of poured rubber surfacing should not be overlooked when considering options for designing spaces that older people will cherish.