Park for senior health proposed for city of Frederick

Susan Paul, occupational therapist and COO of Baker Rehab, works with friend Donald Full to demonstrate exercises she uses with senior patients with balance related to dementia or physical health problems. The city of Frederick is partnering with the practice to create a special park for seniors with activities for people with dementia or physical health problems. Staff photo by Bill Green

Sue Paul wants to show that playgrounds and parks aren't just for children.

Paul, an occupational therapist and chief operating officer of Baker Rehab Group, hopes to partner with the city of Frederick to turn one of the city's underutilized parks into a space especially for seniors.

It would have amenities for both older adults who want to keep their brains and bodies healthy, as well as caretakers or therapists looking for somewhere to take seniors with dementia.

Paul calls it the SIMPLE Park, as it will include features for Sensory Integration, Movement, Proprioception, Learning and Exercise.

For years, Paul said, she tried to think of how to provide this type of space on her own. Last spring, she turned to the city for help.

"(Seniors) have been paying into the park system for years, and there is nothing for them," she said.

Since the spring, Roelkey Myers, the city's deputy director of parks and recreation, has been meeting with Paul at city parks and try to find a space that might be suitable.

She now has a proposal ready to go. The city's Parks and Recreation Commission will hear about it at their next meeting on Dec. 9. The mayor and Board of Aldermen will probably have to sign off on the project, Myers said.

Paul found a park she thinks is ideal, but she and Myers are waiting to reveal which park it is until the commission hears the idea, they said.

Paul, who has worked in her field for more than 23 years, approaches the idea from a medical perspective, and as an advocate for dementia patients.

"There is mounting evidence that exercise and socialization keep people mentally healthier," Paul said.

Dr. Shahid Rafiq, chief of medicine and stroke director at Frederick Memorial Hospital, said he supports Paul's proposal.

Physical health is strongly tied to mental health, and the park would provide a safe space for both physical and mental activities, Rafiq said.

Staying active helps people stay physically healthy, which helps prevent strokes, and strokes lead to the second most common form of dementia, he said.

Meeting a need

Paul's patients have nowhere to go for therapy, she said, and with the number of seniors in the county growing, the problem will only get worse.

It is estimated that the number of residents in Frederick County who are 60 or older will more than double from 2013 to 2030, from about 37,000 to more than 77,000, according to a 2013 county report.

Most of the time, Paul provides therapeutic exercises in a client's living space, be it a house, apartment or senior living facility, she said. Her company has a small outpatient clinic for therapy in Edenton Retirement Community, but she has bigger ideas in mind.

The space needs to be about the size of a football field, Paul said, and the park would have two separate parts.

The first part would have equipment for strength and balance activities that are important for older adults who are looking to stay fit. Balance equipment could include a mini set of stairs, a balance beam, and a mushroom-shaped balance structure, all with something to hold onto.

The second part would be a space contained by a fence with stations for mental health. The area would have mental health challenges and puzzles for seniors looking to stay sharp, and it would allow older adults with dementia to wander and explore in a safe space.

How the park would be funded is still up in the air. The park equipment and fencing would cost between $30,000 and $40,000, Myers said.

The city could help by providing labor, he said.

Paul hopes the city would cover the park's expenses as well, she said, but she knows city officials must make that decision.

If the city doesn't provide funding for the park, Paul said, she will look for donations.

The new concept fits with the parks department's mission of provide recreational opportunities to all city residents regardless of age, race or religion, Myers said.

"If we're not doing this, we should be doing this." 

Follow Jen Fifield on Twitter: @JenAFifield.

(17) comments

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This is as much for the caregivers as the seniors. It is good to have places to take them where their interaction is encouraged and welcomed.

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Something outside would only be usable six months out of the year.

If both are seniors they could go to the Senior Center or they could both go to a class at the Rec Center.

I've seen the stroller moms doing aerobics at the mall. How about something at the FSK Mall for seniors. They have the FMH Wellness Center at the FSK Mall.

Adult daycare can help caregivers out a lot if the senior who needs it qualifies. Daybreak caters to seniors rather than developmentally disabled adults.


So true that it is just as much for the caregivers as the seniors. Until you have had to be a caregiver for a senior with dementia issues, you will never understand the need for something like this. The adult daycare idea is great if you have the money - many people do not have money to afford going to Daybreak. The Frederick Senior Center is more geared toward active older adults, not seniors who need one-on-one assistance because of their impaired cognition. Oh, and please don't try to define what an Occupational Therapist does until you have a Masters Degree in OT and 20 years experience.

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Occupational therapists are licensed by the State of Maryland to function within a narrow parameter. Complaints may be filed by consumers with the state licensing agency.

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Disabled children need to be served first because they have been waiting 30 years for the accommodations to park facilities are required by law.

You could hardly call Frederick a "small" town but they don't even meet these requirements for accessibility.


I think that this is an AMAZING idea! As an Occupational Therapist myself, I have personally witnessed so many older adults with dementia that are, unfortunately, not getting the necessary interaction with their environment as well as the necessary mental and physical stimulation they need to have the best quality of life. If you have a parent or loved one who is experiencing dementia, you will so appreciate this idea! We will all grow old (barring other circumstances), and many of us will develop dementia. Sue Paul's idea may forge the path for a better life for all of us!

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As an occupational therapist you know that your expertise is fine motor and self-help skills that are appropriately taught in a home not a on a football field.

A physical therapist's expertise is gross motor skills that would be taught on a football field.

The Frederick YMCA had a class on balance for seniors. Perhaps the resources at the Frederick Rec Center could be used to teach classes for seniors instead of spending money on an outdoor field that is never used. The Frederick Senior Center also offers classes like yoga for seniors and would probably be interested in offering additional classes to benefit seniors.

Fitting into something that already exists is more cost effective than building something new.


We have a special park for dogs so......

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we should have a special park for dogs with disabilities.

We have a special park for children so......
we should have a special park for children with disabilities.

We have a special park for seniors so......
we should have a special park for seniors with disabilities.

What is that thing called a Senior Center if it is not a special "indoor" park.
Maybe we could just add a ball bath.

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Actually the goal of the American with Disabilities Act is not to create a separate but equal world but to create an inclusive world. Thus children with disabilities can go to the same park as their siblings but instead of sitting by watching their siblings play they can join in.

A pediatric occupational therapist is an expert in the work of children which is play.

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Where are your parks for people with disabilities including chair swings and wheelchair swings. Just a few years ago I could still climb the ladder to go down the slide at the public park. Not anymore.

The Frederick YMCA has a "park" with stations, rarely I've seen people use it.

After a park was destroyed by flood a women in the community I lived collected donations to replace it with a massive wood park and the community donated labor build it. It was colossal. I few years after we left it was destroyed by fire. It still hasn't been rebuilt. Probably the only reason we would have gone back to visit was destroyed.


Pinecliff Park has a special swing for the disabled.

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I was at Pinecliff once for a birthday party. Don't remember the swing. Frederick County seems to have two accessible playgrounds; Pinecliff and Ballenger Creek. I don't recall anything in Frederick City however.


'regardless of age, race or religion' - Why even mention this?

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Age matters, it will not serve children.


This plan is a good idea! Glad to hear someone thinking about this

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