For most of us, a walk in the park is easy, relaxing and offers a fantastic opportunity for releasing stress. For seniors however, a walk in the park is often anything but a casual, simple to plan activity. Physical and mental barriers exist in many outdoor spaces across Los Angeles, and they sometimes prevent senior citizens from enjoying the many benefits that public parks have to offer.

Eliminating Barriers to Improve Parks for Seniors

In a recent report published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, Anastasia Loukaltou-Slderls, professor of Urban Planning at UCLA Luskin, discussed some of the barriers present in parks that make it difficult for Los Angeles seniors to access them and enjoy their amenities. Eliminating these barriers would produce the ideal park for seniors. So, what might that look like?

Senior friendly parks are safe places, located in close proximity to the homes where these individuals reside. This is especially important since many aging adults do not drive, and some have limited local support or mental or physical limitations that make accessing public transportation difficult. An age-friendly design is also important, with things such as wider sidewalks for wheelchair access, smooth pathways that minimize the risk of falls and are accessible when using a cane or walker, opportunities for low-impact activities, senior friendly programming, attractive natural surroundings and an environment that invites socialization and sensory stimulation.

What Seniors Want in Their Parks

This study further suggests that many seniors are not satisfied with the parks closest to their local neighborhoods because some or all of these elements are missing. Members of the contributing focus group made some important recommendations for the planning and implementing of improvements to these parks and design of any new parks in the planning stage.

  1. Develop park programs that respect and support the diversity found in the senior population across Los Angeles.
  2. Create new opportunities for intergenerational use and enjoyment of these public spaces.
  3. Address safety concerns by improving pathways, clearing debris in a timely manner, adding lights and providing a police presence when necessary in public parks.
  4. Respond to the sometimes atypical needs of seniors by providing activities and facilities that are attractive and inviting to this unique population.

Steps to Making Improvements

Improving our parks so that seniors in Los Angeles are better able to visit and enjoy them will take time, money and a commitment by members of the community, but the benefits are many. In addition to providing seniors with recreational opportunities, according to a study on local park use and personal health among older adults in the Journal of Park and Recreational Administration, park use has been linked to reducing stress, improving mood, lowering blood pressure and reducing obesity. These findings are significant when we consider the growing expenditures related to health care in the aging population and how making improvements in any of these areas lowers medically related care costs and improves outcomes.

Los Angeles Family Caregivers Role

Even without waiting for improvements to be made, family caregivers can play a role in helping aging adults to enjoy more time in our local parks and realize the associated benefits. Scope out your local area to better understand where parks are located and which ones provide the easiest access based on your loved one’s personal needs and any limitations. Keep in mind that the best park might not be the one closest to home. Also, seniors have an easier time visiting parks when appropriate and safe transportation is made available to them. Additionally, many are more inclined to visit a park with a friend, loved one or other companion. Parks are safer for seniors who have appropriate supervision and assistance too. If a family member is unable to accompany a senior loved one to the park, consider hiring a qualified in home caregiver from a professional agency such as Salus Homecare in Los Angeles to assist.

In Conclusion

Making changes to Los Angeles parks and public spaces would improve accessibility for seniors and benefit us all. Encourage your local representatives to consider senior-friendly park improvements and look to these guidelines when planning future parks and recreational spaces. Until improvements are made, take personal steps to support your loved ones so that they can enjoy the parks in your neighborhood safely and comfortably while realizing the many positives that this type of activity provides.

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