Craig Bouck, AIA, LEED AP

The Future of Active-Aging Adult Centers: Part 1

Table Tennis at Heather Gardens Community Center

To appeal to the next generation of Boomers, “senior centers” must adapt and access innovative design concepts to transform into active-aging centers.

The following is the first installation of an article Craig Bouck recently authored for The Journal on Active Aging. We will release the full contents of the article over the next several months in a series of blog posts.

As the youngest Baby Boomers turn 50 next year, the population group that has driven culture and commerce in the United States for the past six decades is redefining what it means to grow old. To appeal to this influential group, “senior centers” are now referred to as “active-aging centers” or “Boomer centers.”

However, focusing only on the change in name might cause us to miss what really makes these centers unique from others in the community. Are these simply age-restricted community recreation centers, or is there an opportunity for a truly new paradigm in recreation facilities? As we look at the issues and concerns surrounding this issue, one fact definitely must be addressed: in order to remain relevant to the Boomer generation, active-aging center designs must adapt and change.

The first step toward new, relevant active-aging centers is understanding some of the issues and concerns facing current center operators as they look toward the future. Last year we reached out to seven veteran managers responsible for facilities constructed over the last 35 years. What follows are several of the most pressing issues and concerns based on our conversations.

How will we attract Boomers? The key to remaining relevant to the next generation of aging adults is to understand how society’s perception of aging continues to shift. For decades, senior centers have been associated with purely passive activities—classes, games, arts and crafts, and productions for music and drama. Senior centers have been for seniors, and we believed that being a senior meant someone who no longer has an “active” lifestyle. But campaigns like ICAA’s Changing the Way We Age® are helping older adults understand how they can continue to make significant contributions to society—going back to work if they wish, gaining new knowledge, learning new activities and being physically active. Aging Boomers want to associate with active pursuits as long as possible.

In response, operators catering to older adults have made efforts to rebrand their facilities and services, often completely removing the word “senior” from their vocabulary. Many facilities have changed their name to “adult center” to lose the senior center stigma even while maintaining their intended clientele focus. Centers now need spaces now for technology classrooms, fitness centers, gymnasiums, walking tracks, warm water swimming pools as well as wellness and therapy rooms.

How do we keep retired people in the community? When retired people leave the community, it not only loses potential customers and tax revenue, but also a potential labor force and accumulated knowledge—commonly called a “brain drain.” Many factors influence a person’s decision about where to live after retirement. Some factors, like proximity to family and climate, are out of the control of any community planners; however, community leaders can directly influence other factors, including cost of living, access to healthcare and transportation, housing quality and cost, safety, work opportunities, and quality leisure and recreational amenities. The most important step in keeping retired people in the community is specifically adapting facilities and opportunities to cater to today’s aging adult population.

What special accommodations must we have? As reluctant as Boomers may be to accept the physical changes of aging, providing a few special accommodations in adult centers can increase their enjoyment and help remove participation barriers. Specialized fitness equipment can help support an attitude of being fit, not first. That is, equipment should be designed less for training for competition and more for helping maintain body strength and balance and reducing the risk of injury.

Varying levels of hearing loss may occur as people age. Because of this change, the acoustical quality of a room directly affects our experience. In addition to installing sound-absorbing acoustical treatments that reduce reverberation and sound distortion, many facilities are installing induction hearing loop systems, which magnetically transmit sound to hearing aids. Intelligibility is greatly increased because the distance between the speaker and the listener(s) is bridged and background environmental noise is reduced.


The Future of Active-Aging Adult Centers: Part 2
The Future of Active-Aging Adult Centers: Part 3

Posted by Craig Bouck, AIA, LEED AP on August 30, 2013 at 01:42pm

Tags: senior center (8), interior space planning (7), adult recreation (6), active aging (6)

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