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 third and final installation of an article Craig Bouck recently authored for The Journal on Active Aging.
Envision the Future Active-Aging Center
Now that the issues have been identified, the next step in envisioning a new generation of active-aging adult centers is to imagine facilities with spaces designed to be relevant and vital to aging adults.
Continuing education has always been an important focus of adult centers. Course offerings, however, have generally been limited to the expertise available locally within each community. If an adult center happens to be in a large metropolitan area or in a college town, direct access to excellent instructors may not be an issue. But the next best thing is a distance-learning classroom. These are simply classrooms or multipurpose rooms outfitted with special audio, video and computer equipment that enables interactive participation with an offsite instructor. Offerings can include training sessions, lectures, workshops, art classes, or any kind of educational gathering. In addition to connecting with an individual speaker, these kinds of computer set-ups bring center users the potential to interact with groups of people from around the world.
Staying active for many older adults may include working, volunteering, mentoring or consulting. If they are doing this independently, they often need space for collaboration with others. The active-aging adult center can become a place which fosters this collaboration by providing special rooms outfitted with tables, chairs, marker boards and a large, flat-panel monitor. Multiple outlets and inputs for laptops or tablets allow participants to research, create and share digital data.
In the spirit of sharing, active-aging centers can become a host for Living Libraries. Older adults have a lifetime of accumulated knowledge and experiences which largely go untapped, especially after they retire. Started in Denmark in 2000, the Living Library concept is an opportunity to connect people who want information on a particular topic with human resources in their community. Participants publish interests, beliefs or experiences they are willing to share and offer to be “checked out” by community members for 30-minute conversations. A center that offers this type of program could bring multiple generations together and periodically transform an underutilized lounge, library or reading room into a vibrant social area.
Internet Access and Tech Support
In 2012 the Pew Research Center reported that, for the first time, half of American adults age 65 and older are going online. Additionally, one-third of users age 65 and older use social networking, and 69% of seniors have mobile phones. Can an active-aging adult center ever replace the local Starbucks as the go-to cyber café with free Wi-Fi? Maybe not, but it seems safe to say that this trend will continue and suggests that our next generation of older adults will be more connected than ever before, expecting to have the same free access to the Internet at their center that they experience daily in the retail world.
Adult centers can borrow other ideas from the retail world, as well. In another 2012 report, the Pew Research Center noted that among adults age 50 and over, 37% use e-readers, 28% have tablets and 47% own smartphones. This presents an opportunity to help support older adults who have growing interest in mobile, content-rich devices. Perhaps the next generation of centers will include a mobile device bar, not unlike the service counter at an Apple™ retail outlet. The difference is that this support bar would be staffed by older adults. Empathetic peer volunteers can offer advice on devices, how-to lessons, and recommendations on applications and content. If it is located strategically, the bar can double as a serving or gathering area for social events when not in use as a mobile device help center.
Digital Equipment and Experiences
Every day it seems there are new gadgets and software applications that make recording, editing and publishing digital creations easier and more intuitive. That being said, many of the self-directed and produced movies and songs are crude and low-quality. This is often due in equal parts to inferior recording equipment, overly simplistic software and lack of training. One solution to attract users interested in improving their digital skills is for adult centers to create a digital multimedia lab. Outfitted with good-quality video cameras, sound recording equipment, software and computers, such a space will become the digital version of the traditional arts and crafts room.
Another technology-driven innovation is the virtual active-aging center. Originally a demonstration project between Microsoft and Selfhelp Community Services, Inc., easy-to-use video conferencing equipment is installed in residences of homebound adults and in local adult centers. The mobile units are then positioned in various classrooms throughout the day, enabling the adults to participate interactively with fitness and educational classes, all from home.
Pools and Gyms
Specialized fitness areas continue to evolve to meet the needs of active-aging clientele. One of the most significant changes has been in the evolution of warm water exercise pools. Originally conceived as a place for physical therapy, warm water pools have grown in size and features to offer much more variety to older adults who are interested in incorporating water into their personal exercise programs, which is attractive because the buoyant quality of water reduces wear and tear on joints. Common now are water current channels that offer exercise opportunities to walk both with and against a variable current and group exercise areas for water aerobics and movement classes. Emerging in these pools are areas for water exercise equipment, including treadmills and bicycles, and water workout stations equipped with resistive exercise bands. Individual benches built into the pool walls allow personalized control of hydrotherapy jets.
Gymnasiums and fitness rooms are also evolving and adapting to the shifting needs of older adults. No longer are full-length basketball courts necessary or even desirable. While many older adults are still passionate about competitive sports, smaller courts are more forgiving to aging knees and shoulder joints. Well-designed multipurpose gymnasiums accommodate a wide variety of activities, including basketball, volleyball, pickleball and indoor soccer. Nets lowered from the ceiling accommodate golf and batting practice. Combining all these activities into a single space can lead to a confusing array of court lines. Fortunately, innovative flooring manufacturers are experimenting with new court flooring products that include embedded LED lights to allow court lines to be switched off and on depending on the sport being played. This helps decrease confusion while still accommodating a full list of activities.
Innovative Design Concepts for the Next Generations
Active-aging centers must be designed to attract the Baby Boomer generation and help keep them in the community. Beyond adapting to accommodate physical changes, it will be necessary to consider technological advances that will influence the amenity spaces in your centers. From aquatic recreation to virtual learning classrooms, this generation of aging adults will rely more than ever before on innovative resources as a necessity in their lives.
In order to plan for these solutions, adult center operators must consider funding and demographic issues to stay ahead of the curve when planning new facilities or upgrades to existing ones. With proper planning and coordination with the right design team, it is possible to attract this influential group of people to your community and keep them actively engaged.
Posted by Craig Bouck, LEED® AP on November 6, 2013 at 05:59pmcomments powered by Disqus