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.