Happy 50th Birthday, Medicare

A New Elder Playground in My Town

About two-and-a-half-years ago, I told you about elder playgrounds and that I was heading a small committee of the 50-plus Advisory Board of the City of Lake Oswego, to look into details of building one in Lake Oswego, Oregon.

They have been popular in Europe and Japan for years but were then, and still are, just getting started in the United States. One such playground has existed since 2010 on the grounds of the senior center in Rockville, Maryland:

A fairly large elder playground opened in Galveston County, Texas, last year:

So as I reported here in 2013, my little committee and I researched elder playgrounds and pulled together the information the city would need to make the decision to build one.

Among the people I spoke with was Michael Cohen, a professional designer of children's playgrounds, whose enthusiasm for elder playgrounds has made him a sort of godfather to the movement to build them. His website is here. As I wrote in these pages in 2013:

”I am personally convinced of Michael Cohen's vision and that there should be elder playgrounds in every city in the United States, particularly as the elder population explodes in numbers.

“The playgrounds promote general health, wellbeing, spread joy and go a long way toward warding off social isolation which, as we discuss here from time to time, can lead to depression, illness and even early death. With so much concern over health care costs, to me elder playgrounds – which are not expensive to build - are a money-saving no brainer.”

About three weeks ago, the Lake Oswego playground, built and managed by the Parks and Recreation Department, opened to the public in West Waluga Park. It is called FIT Spot which, while utilitarian, lacks appeal or sense of fun such a park provides and I am so sorry the word “elder” is not in the name. But that is how things go in a culture as terrified of ageing as ours is.

It's not that people of all ages can't or shouldn't use the equipment, but the point is to provide elders - many of whom, like me, can't afford a gym membership - a place to help maintain their well being, meet their peers and enjoy the outdoors. There are few enough such opportunities designed for elders' needs and capabilities.

(End of editorial. Moving on.)

Here is the sign about the playground at the entry to it. You can see part of the adjacent kids' play area which is a great idea – parents and caregivers can work out at FIT Spot while keeping their eyes on the kids:


The entire FIT Spot area looks almost exactly as I had imagined it would. Here is a wide shot of most, but not all, of the ten pieces of exercise equipment.


When I was there to take photos early Wednesday morning, three people were already working out. Here are close-ups of several machines:




Three or four of the exercise units, like this one just below, are fitted out for people who use wheelchairs:


Because this is northwest Oregon and it rains a lot (well, not in summer), this nearby covered area is a good place to wait out a surprise shower and there are clean rest rooms nearby.


Three times a week, I work out at home for 40 minutes or so in the early morning. Now I will add the elder playground into my routine on some other days. It works different parts of my body, gets me out of the house and I've already met someone I would like to know better.

FIT Spot is far enough away that I need to drive for 15-20 minutes to use it but I hear chatter that one is being considered for a park that is within walking distance from my home. I hope that rumor is true - that would be terrific.

Elder playgrounds are a big hit in Spain where, Huffington Post reports,

”The greater Barcelona area has about 300 elderly parks alone. That’s about one for every town in the district.”

Maybe you can work with your community to create your own elder playground.


An outdoor gym...what a terrific concept! I could never understand how people can be inside in a gym on beautiful days. I am too much of a nature person and would much rather walk and swim under the blue sky.

Wow, just WOW! ( I want one near me) Great pictures Ronni. Do you have a favorite one to play on?

Wonderful! Hoping you get one nearer to your home. And yet, I pondered as I read this post: why it that our great country seems to lag behind other countries when it comes to ideas/innovations such as this. It's a situation that never ceases to amaze me! Dee

Want one! I'm jealous. We have something like this on Marina Green (too far for me) and some very run down Par Courses (a previous variant) elsewhere. This looks lo lovely.

That's the coolest thing I've seen in ages! I want one near me too!

While nothing to compare with Spain's elder playground (including trainer!) at the edge of the sea we share, Tel Aviv's beaches have similar setups. (And I suspect other beaches along the coast do, too.) All ages use the ones I've seen (not used;-)

This is great until some old----- gets hurt and decides to sue the heck out of the town or municipality which then results in the closing of or requiring strict supervision of all playgrounds. Sorry I'm such a skeptical pessimist.

Yes, what a winning idea. I pay at the Y for just these experiences.
Might I suggest a wider color palette...perhaps yellow and blue too. That cream and green are going to look sad in the rain. Your colorist noter.....

Fabulous! I live in a university town and, surprisingly, there is very little available here to promote exercise, community and ultimately, health! Am going to pass this on to people who are supposed to be leading the action toward elders and wellness.

Did you change the font here? Today's column seems easier to read :-) - thanks!

Very interesting concept, Ronnie. I live in the epicenter of elder life - Naples, Florida. Why on earth don't we have these playgrounds here? Here it is: cost, land and rampant conservatism. You mention that these are not expensive to build. I would like to know what the one in LO cost? Here, the conservationists and the veteran-ists fight constantly to get land or even the most meager funds for their efforts. Getting a piece of land for such a playground in Naples would seem to be an insurmountable problem from the start. Did your community build the playground in an already-existing public space? I'd love to get some people behind this concept here despite my pessimism. Where to start? I need a project and would love to make this one happen.

Bruce, why would elders being hurt on a playground be any more of a threat to its existence than children being hurt on one? I hope such an idea doesn't stop any community from building these. They are a brilliant idea and, over time, might even pay for themselves many times over in a variety of ways. I've heard nothing of such a thing in my community of northern Illinois, but I plan to start looking into this and how to get one started post-haste.. Thanks for keeping us enlightened, Ronni.

Lake Oswego's elder playground is built in an existing park so no land purchase was necessary. The platform on which the equipment is mounted is a one-time cost. I don't have prices for this playground but generally, individual machines cost an average of $3,000 each. Contact me offline and I send you the names of a couple of equipment manufacturers.

What a great idea! I agree the colors look rather utilitarian, but I suppose that's in keeping with the Parks & Recreation concept, and it probably will be less appealing to the youngsters! Good for you Ronni for heading it up...may you use and enjoy it for many years to come.

Great idea. Would love to have one nearby. But I agree with Bruce. I see lots of potential for missteps and falls, which can result in potentially serious injuries in elders. A lot of cities might not want the liability exposure. (I was raised in a city that years ago stripped all the playground equipment from schools for fear of a big lawsuit when a child got hurt.)

Too terrific and where are they in NY (as in, where we live)?
Also impressed, once again, with you - the Can Do Kid.

notdotdot and others...
To be clear, I started the ball rolling with the idea for the elder playground and research. Others followed through and made it happen after I left the 50+ Advisory Board.

Wonderful idea. Congrats. Our senior center is already in a large park with a kid's playground and is close to everything. Walla Walla is not very big so it would be close to everyone, it's even on a bus line. My former home town, Renton WA, had outdoor exercise equipment on a trail along side a river for adults not kids and I used it whenever I was there. I will have to bring it up at our meeting.

I fear it's too late for me, but I think it's a grand idea.

I do see a possible situation where a careless elder might get hurt while using a machine so perhaps a signed disclaimer to use the machines would be a solution to that potential problem. Perhaps It could be done in the form of a license that you must have to use the playground equipment agreeing that you do so at your own risk. An additional safeguard of posted notices stating that the city is not liable for injuries. If you do not have a license you are still on your own if injured.

Perhaps several problems could be overcome by issuing an annual pass at a nominal fee ($10..00 should do.) To get a pass, one would have to sign a disclaimer about liability. The fee proceeds could be earmarked to maintain the equipment or pay off any debt incurred to purchase items.

I think it is a grand idea, and all the negatives mentioned in comments don't need to be deal breakers..

I am going contact the park board to see what the possibility of getting at least one in my town. I don't belong to groups or even know any who's who type people. However, I am online 24/7, well maybe 20/7.. so I'm comfortable talking about projects online.

A terrific idea - I'm passing it on to some senior organizations and city government - they've put enormous funds into children's equipment the past few years, and they're sitting on some suitable properties.

With my high-powered microscope, I noticed the #1 statement on the sign states whoever uses the facilities assumes all risk and responsibility. The following #s are thoughtful guidelines, including to check first for loose nuts and bolts! It reads like those in charge thought this thoroughly through.

Unfortunately - there are those who will ignore the sign and possibly kick up a fuss if injured. Not likely to happen, and I'd imagine the LO group and city already checked out their vulnerability with the city's legal team.

Kudos to you, Ronni for moving the ball.

Fantastic idea! But, personally, I don't mind dropping the label "elder." Why do elders have to be segregated from the rest of society? Just make it an "adult" playground, as opposed to kids' playground. That being said, the print on that sign looks awfully small for most of the people I know to read! Anyway . . . enjoy!

Fun idea, Ronni..I'll have to go check it out. I take my grand daughter to the beach in the park on the Willamette (forget the name of it right now). This looks like fun
And to Bruce..we elders are aware of our limitations..I know I have poor balance and a bad right leg (Bad Leg! Bad). I'll just need to be a bit careful,just as I am when I walk with my dogs in the pard. I use a pair of european walking sticks to keep my good balance.
And if I fell, I'd never consider litigation. Theres too much of that these days. We all need to be more personally responsible for our decisions.

I could have sued the contractor who left the unstable construction ramp which I fell off of. But chose not to. Instead, we had a meeting with the contractor who agreed that the ramp could have been considered an attractive hazard for both elders and children. That the house should be locked and ramps put inside instead of being left outside and available to anyone (especially since we had thousands of dollars worth of appliances, mirrors, tools and other easily taken things.

Be well! And thanks again, Ronni
elle your neighbor in Beaverton

As you said Ronnie - It is too bad they didn't put Elder playground on the sign. I do not see that this is an "elder playground".

It is a nice work out place - they have been making those for years around the PNW, there is one in our local park - The Dalles, Or., and I know there was one in Fort Vancouver Park about 30 years ago. (Lake Oswego has more expensive equipment - the most affluent area in Portland area should.) The problem is they don't get maintained and after a few years are just broken pieces of junk in the park that teenagers sit on. (That is ok too they need a place to sit .)

But as for it being for elders - what would indicate that it is? The equipment is not for elders, it is ordinary gym equipment, not gentle, safe things. I don't see elders using it. Apparently Lake Oswego did not want to dedicate an area for elders only. It seems more of a statement like "we considered and rejected the idea of a senior workout place". Too bad, it is a nice idea.

The comments to this entry are closed.