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Playground for seniors could be key feature in Age Friendly Suburbs

Canberra could soon become home to an Australian-first after the concept of a playground for seniors was introduced to the ACT Government.

Seniors playgrounds are already popular in China and Europe - could Australians find them just as beneficial? (Source: xiaoke wei/Shutterstock)
Seniors playgrounds are already popular in China and Europe - could Australians find them just as beneficial? (Source: xiaoke wei/Shutterstock)

he playground concept, which is already in place in China and Europe, aims to offer seniors an alternative, local and free fitness option to help keep them active, moving, fit and healthy, while allowing them to age in place.

Working to build ‘age-friendly suburbs’ within Canberra and its surrounds, the ACT Government acknowledges that providing “good infrastructure” is important to help seniors age in place and remain “fit and active” to maintain a high quality of life.

“While there are no current plans for a dedicated senior’s playground, the concept has been raised with the Government,” a Government spokesperson says.

“Should Canberra’s seniors’ community have an interest in a playground, the Government would be happy to discuss options.”

Physiotherapists have also weighed in on the trend and possible introduction in Australia, with aged care physiotherapist, Dr Tim Henwood, from Southern Cross Care SA & NT, saying the concept of seniors playgrounds offers variety when it comes to fitness and health.

“Physical activity has great benefit among older people, especially when it comes to mobility, balance and capacity to stay alive,” Dr Henwood explains.

“Exercise helps people move around the house, shops, stand from a chair and climb stairs - but whatever the exercise, people need to be seeking out and participating in things they enjoy so they stick to it.

“These playgrounds for seniors have been around in other countries for a while, and when set up well, there can be a variety of challenges available through them.”

While positive about the concept, Dr Henwood recommends that the equipment is best used in social groups and should be monitored, recommending that if introduced, these playgrounds act as a start or finish point for things like seniors walking groups, where activity can be monitored and it can be worked in with other exercise.

Federal Minister for Aged Care, Ken Wyatt is also on board with the idea, saying there is exciting potential in it.

“This is an exciting concept with potential to form a significant part of healthy ageing in Australian communities,” he says.

“Following my visit to last year’s G20 conference in Germany, I am aware of that country’s work in this space and I think it will have great application in Australia, especially with our climate.

“We know the importance of exercise and fitness in preventing frailty and extending the capacity of seniors to lead independent lives.

“Specialised playgrounds like these can also enable important social interaction, which could be extended across the generations, for example, by incorporating play and exercise facilities for both young and old.”

While there are no immediate plans to create the seniors playground, the Age Friendly Suburb initiative, which has been running in Canberra since 2015, will continue to work with local residents in chosen suburbs to identify areas and infrastructure in need of change to make living in the area easier on older residents.

In 2018, local Minister for Transport and City Services Meegan Fitzharris says the suburbs of Page and Hughes will be in focus for the Age Friendly Suburbs initiative.

“Page and Hughes have been selected as the fifth and sixth ACT suburbs in the Age Friendly Suburbs program and will receive upgrades to the path network to make them more accessible and connected suburbs,” she explains.

“We want to make it easier, convenient and more accessible for older residents to move in and around their community, so we are asking residents where the improvements are needed most, with a focus around access to local shops and services.

“Although this project focuses on senior residents, the active travel improvements will also benefit the wider community, allowing people to remain connected to places that are important to them such as their local shops and community and outdoor facilities.

“Active travel improvements will help everyone stay healthy, active and engages with their community - what works for older Canberrans will work for everyone.”

Local Minister for Veterans and Seniors, Gordon Ramsay, has also weighed in on the importance of helping seniors to age in place.

“Active ageing and providing good infrastructure is important to help seniors age in place and remain fit and active to maintain a high quality of life,” he says.

“We will be engaging with communities in these suburbs and those throughout Canberra to help guide these and future upgrades.”

Consultation with Page and Hughes residents concluded on 11 January 2018.

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