While families with children and young, active adults have traditionally been the target markets for community parks and recreational facilities, the “graying” of America is inspiring some bold new approaches. According to the most recent U.S. Census, 14.9 percent of the population in 2015 was age 65 or older, representing 47.8 million older adults. More of these seniors are choosing to “age in place” — remain in their homes of choice rather than transitioning to senior living facilities — which generates a greater demand for senior-oriented activities and services from local parks and rec facilities.
According to a recent survey by the National Recreation and Park Association, those demands are being heard loud and clear. Nine out of 10 agencies now dedicate programs, facilities, and programming to older adults. And 71 percent of those agencies characterize themselves as the leader or one of the leaders offering services and programming for older adults in their communities.
Diverse Services for a Diverse Group
While we tend to think of “seniors” as a single bloc, this demographic is actually a highly diverse group with an equally diverse array of needs and interests. According to the survey, parks and rec agencies are offering a varied slate of offerings for their senior patrons. Ninety-one percent of respondents offer exercise classes, and other offerings include
- Field trips, tours, and group vacations: 70%
- Arts & crafts classes: 67%
- Volunteer opportunities in rec centers: 58%
- Special events for seniors: 58%
- Group walks: 53%
- Volunteer opportunities in parks: 48%
- Employment opportunities (leading classes, etc.): 47%
- Group nature activities: 38%
- Cooking and nutrition classes: 36%
- Mentoring opportunities: 14%
Serving a Broad Age Range
While the U.S. Census defines “seniors” as those age 65 and older, parks and rec agencies are targeting their senior programs to those as young as 50. “This reflects not only the fact that older working Americans themselves have unique needs that park and recreation agencies can meet,” the report states, “but also represents an opportunity to keep these people connected with park and recreation after their children have left home and they may have become less active.” Forty-four percent of respondents have a minimum age of 50 for their senior programs, and 40 percent have a minimum age of 55.
Health and Wellness Rules
As seniors age, staying healthy and active becomes a priority, and parks and rec agencies are stepping in to help. Three-fourths of survey respondents offer one or more evidence-based wellness programs for older adults, including tai chi, fall prevention, diabetes prevention and self-management, and Arthritis Foundation programs.
Assessing the Demand
How do these agencies discover what older adults in their communities want and need from them? According to the survey, most respondents say they get direct response from current and potential users through
- Surveys of community members: 73%
- Target marketing and outreach: 60%
- Community engagement at senior housing communities: 33%
- Community engagement at faith-based organizations: 13%
To learn more about trends in senior programming among parks and recreation agencies, see the National Recreation and Park Association’s report Healthy Aging in Parks Survey