I had to admire the positive tenor of a story on PRI's "The World" today about the emergence of playgrounds for older people in Spain. To be fair, the story focused on Spain but suggested that other European countries were going the same direction. Instead of simply lamenting that the population is aging, the attitude seems to be: Let's prepare for it. One part of this is keeping older people fit both physically and mentally by creating parks that cater to them, instead of just having parks for kids in which you see older people feeding the squirrels while their grandkids play on the swing.
But these days the older folks aren’t just sitting around feeding squirrels.The parks are put together by a Finnish firm, and appear to be very popular.
They’re playing too. And exercising. On hundreds of specially designed outdoor circuits for the elderly.
On one recent morning, in the Spanish coastal town of Vilassar, a kiddy park with its slides and seesaws is empty. But right next to it, 20 retirees shout out during roll call. Then they take up positions by tiny balance beams, elevated walkways, pedals fixed to benches and twisting metal bars.
The day’s workout session begins.
The point of these outdoor exercise spots isn’t just to give elderly folks something to do. Officials say it makes good fiscal sense as well.Now, I admit that the first thing I did when I got out of the car after listening to this was to check the UN Population Division's projections for Spain. Could those numbers be right? Actually, yes. The UN projects that by 2050, 40 percent of Spain's population could be age 60 and older. If people start taking pensions at a younger age, then the percentage could be higher. This, of course, reminds us of another related policy approach--increasing retirement age throughout Europe.
Analysts estimate that 40 to 45 percent of the population in Spain will be retirees by 2050. Spending a few bucks on parks to keep that population alert and healthy, the thinking goes, could save a lot in expensive health care costs.