Inventive Programs Free Seniors from Isolation
Remember speeding your two wheeler down the streets in your neighbourhood? The wind whipping through your hair, the sound of your friends laughing beside you and the feeling of pure joy rushing through your veins? For many of us, riding our bikes was — and still is — a large part of how we connect with our friends, family and community.
For many senior citizens, the freedom of cycling is only a memory and this can add to their feelings of social isolation. With assistance from Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF), two programs are bringing the joy of cycling back to seniors.
With the help of a $24,000 grant from ECF, the Canterbury Foundation has welcomed the Swedish-engineered BikeAround program — the first of its kind in Western Canada — to its facility in Laurier Heights.
Using a stationary recumbent bicycle, a large dome immersive screen and Google Street View technology, BikeAround allows seniors to input an address of their choice and virtually cycle through that community — including places from their past. The street view is shot in present day, allowing riders to discover how their past communities have changed while reliving their fondest memories.
“[There’s] a lot of happiness,” says Canterbury recreation supervisor Mbalia Kamara. “People are coming out of their shells when they’re engaged in the program. They are coming in and talking, even those who are not even biking. Sometimes residents [are] just sitting and watching, [and] they’re really enjoying the stories of the person who is exploring.”
Kamara adds that she has seen emotional and social changes in those who have used the program, noting the biggest positive impact in residents with dementia.
“When they are on the bike and they are seeing their homes, they’re able to recollect some memories,” she adds.
Bruce Hogle, a 90-year-old resident at Canterbury Foundation, was one of the first residents to try the bike during the program’s media release in June.
“I felt really good,” said Hogle, hopping off the bike as his smile filled the room.
CYCLING WITHOUT AGE
The Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) is also working to improve the lives of seniors who are blind or partially sighted through its Cycling Without Age Trishaw Program.
“I think there’s a sense of freedom when you’re riding, when you feel the wind in your hair again,” says Margaret Varty, a philanthropy specialist with CNIB. With the help of a $24,000 grant from ECF, CNIB is using trishaws and the power of community to bring a sense of freedom back to blind or partially sighted seniors.
The trishaw is a three-wheeled bike with a cushioned seat up front for passengers and operational pedals and handlebars in back for a volunteer cyclist to manoeuvre and steer.
Sharing a ride on a trishaw encourages conversation, social interaction and intergenerational friendship between the volunteers and passengers, says Varty.
“There are many opportunities to chat while on the trishaw,” she explains. “Simply describing the environment creates discussion, and is encouraged to make passengers feel more comfortable.”
The ECF grant has allowed CNIB to create a stronger sense of community, says Varty, and it is her hope, and the hope of CNIB, to continue to grow the Trishaw Program and help as many people living with vision loss as possible.
“A program like the Edmonton chapter of Cycling Without Age allows us to ensure that seniors living with sight loss have the recreation opportunities they want and deserve,” adds Varty. “After all, everyone deserves to feel the wind in their hair.”