There are more Australians over the age of 65, than there are people who live in Perth and Adelaide combined. Now, while this may seem to be a dig at the great cities in our south and western states, it is in fact, purely an indication of the scale of our rapidly ageing population.
In our society, we tend to think we reach our peak when we enter our 30s — we've surpassed the party years of our 20s, we still know how to have fun, but we're more stable, less emotional and we're truly starting to set ourselves up. Because of this, we often label people in their 50s as 'over the hill', and tend to think that enjoyable exercises for older adults revolve only around textiles and gardening.
But who says that has to be the case?
Life in our so-called twilight years doesn't have to be all slow strolls, bad soapies and knitting (though it certainly can be, if that's what you like). No, if nothing else, the 'grey nomads' have shown us that getting older can be a chance to enjoy the freedoms we may not have experienced for decades, to adventure and explore, to live life to the fullest and to make every second count.
While aged care facilities of the past may not have reinforced this concept of adventure, one of the biggest rewards of having an ageing population, is we are thinking more about our older years and how to enjoy them. In line with this, we're seeing a shift away from the aged care facilities of last century, and a move towards 'lifestyle villages' and centres that provide engagement, stimulation and enjoyable activities for the elderly of all abilities.
To truly be competitive in the aged care industry of the future, facilities will need to go above and beyond weekly card games and art classes, and explore aged care activities that help their residents remain active and fit, while also getting some real enjoyment out of life.
Aged care facilities were once thought of as one-dimensional businesses — physical health services — but now, they are so much more. Multi-dimensional offerings, they are designed not just as a shelter and nursing opportunity for people who are aged, but as hives of activity, social interaction, noise, laughter and new memories.
The aged care revolution incorporates many aspects, but an important one is the inclusion of new spaces specifically designed to encourage movement, and to challenge both the mind and the body, as residents mix, mingle and immerse themselves in engaging experiences.
Exercises for older adults
Aged Care villages of the future understand that safe and appropriate exercise is as important to their residents, as it is to their children and their children's children. The fact is, in Australia, not enough elderly people are motivated to exercise, and of those who do, many aren't getting enough of the right kind of exercise.
In the past, with exercise equipment restricted to places like gyms — which don't provide specific exercises for older adults, and certainly don't consider their limited budgets — access to anything other than walking and self-directed aerobic activity has been quite limited.
But the world is changing, and as a result, we are thinking much more about our elderly people and what they need. Councils and aged care facilities alike are seeing the role they play in elderly exercise, and creating spaces for them that directly meet their more limited physical abilities, address some of the fears they have of injury and allow them to really get active and engaged.
These days, vast equipment ranges have been developed with the elderly in mind — and why not, they make up an ever-increasing portion of our population! Specially-designed apparatus help the elderly to keep moving, providing balance exercises for seniors, honing fine-motor skills, and boosting the heart-rate with the control not to over-do-it.
Beyond exercise equipment, are pieces created for any age group, that can be incorporated into designs to fit spaces especially for elderly users. In the heat of our Australian summers — some of the most dangerous times for the elderly — we are seeing the introduction of water-play spaces created especially to allow older people to cool off, have fun and enjoy the water the way they used to. With a lot of elderly people uncomfortable swimming, or never having learned to do so, these areas enable access to water and temperature control, without the fear or discomfort.
Games for seniors: exercising the mind
As we age, sometimes it isn't just our bodies that start to decline, so keeping the mind active and challenged is just as important as exercising the body. Many of next-gen care facilities will recognise the need for mental stimulation and exercise, and incorporate a range of aged care activities that help keep mental dexterity at its best.
Incorporating mazes, puzzles and strategy games into shared activity spaces is a way centres can assist in maintaining both the mental and physical health of residents — while at the same time offering them an opportunity to challenge themselves and have fun.
Introducing music and movement
Music is an important therapeutic device in treating or managing a lot of illnesses, including some that are commonly associated with ageing, such as Alzheimer's Disease and other diseases that cause dementia symptoms (see our blog, 'Living with dementia: music and memory' for more detail on using music and exercise to manage dementia symptoms). It is also a great way to encourage simple and fluid movement, to jog the memory, to create patterns and to manage emotion.
Always a part of aged care, more recently, music has moved from the odd local school choir visit or sing-along, to something much more dynamic that offers elderly residents in care facilities a myriad of benefits.
Mirroring trends in dynamic play space design, aged care facilities are introducing oversized percussion instruments to activity centres. Designed to encourage both individual and group play, the instruments cater to those who may not be quite skilled enough to take advantage of the centre piano, but enjoy the rhythm, creativity and joy that come with making music.
Enjoying quality time with loved ones
Alt tag: exercises for older adults and their families
Perhaps one of the most exciting changes in aged care over the last few decades, has been a focus on creating environments that people really want to be in — and that doesn't just mean elderly people, it means their friends and families as well.
Large gardens are perfect for picnics and storytelling with grandchildren, small apartments or villas mean residents don't lose the option to have extended visits with loved ones. Family-friendly play and interactive spaces allow grandma or grandpa to show off all the coordination and mobility they've gained from exercise stations and moving along to music.
Carefully-planned and designed spaces not only add a new dynamic to a facility and double as a piece of outdoor art, they cater to the needs of people of all ages and abilities, meaning elderly residents can really make the most of their quality time with children and grandchildren.
Adding dimension to your facility
There is no doubt that aged care, like almost every industry, is starting to evolve, and our increasing ageing population is making sure this change is positive. To truly gain an edge or become a facility of choice, residents look for all the essential boxes to be ticked (dining, facilities, health care), but they also expect to enjoy a high quality of life.
The important part of the increasingly popular phrase, 'lifestyle villages' is the word 'life', because regardless of age, this new trend in care facilities provides exercises for older adults, their families and friends, to help ensure everyone can keep living to the fullest.