Bicycling program benefits residents

Many people take going for a bike ride for granted. However, for most residents in continuing care, it’s something from their distant past.

Two Covenant Care teams in Calgary wanted to change that.

“We purchased a Nihola trishaw from Cycling without age to share between Covenant Care’s Holy Cross Manor and St. Marguerite Manor, including Dulcina Hospice, to give our residents a different experience,” says Jackie Allen, a recreation therapist at Holy Cross Manor.

A staff member pedals the specialty bike, which features a large front seat that can comfortably accommodate two residents, on nearby trails. The sites’ recreation therapy teams are keeping the criteria for rides wide open, but they are prioritizing residents who would gain from having a more intimate or quiet experience, such as individuals with moderate to severe dementia. The residents are not only having fun but also experiencing multiple benefits.

“We haven’t had a single resident say they didn’t enjoy the ride,” says Jackie.

The recreation teams expected to see some benefits from the residents’ improved access to the community and increased time outdoors, such as a positive impact on sleep, eating and mood.

“We’ve also seen some unexpected positive outcomes from the rides,” says Jackie. “Residents are often more alert after their ride. Many reminisce about past experiences, and they often engage us in more vulnerable conversations. For us, it allows us to get to know our residents in a different way.”

Lindsay Rabel, a recreation therapist at nearby St. Marguerite Manor, says they’re seeing similar benefits for their residents.

“We took a lady with moderate to early advanced dementia for a ride, and I sat beside her,” says Lindsay. “She walks tilted to one side and hunched over, often only looking at the ground. She doesn’t speak much. During the ride, her posture straightened, she kept turning to look at the scenery and she talked to me about her old house and how lush and green it was outside. She really loosened up physically and noticed her surroundings, and her conversation got better and better.”

St. Marguerite Manor residents Anne Rosgen and Asnet Gordon have both gone for several rides, including together. 

Anne and Asnet are enjoying going for rides.

“It’s quite different than riding an ordinary bicycle, but it reminds me of riding a bike as a kid and having the wind in my hair,” says Asnet. “I like being driven around.”

Asnet says riding in the bike is very comfortable and she likes it.

Anne agrees. “I was a little nervous the first time, but it is very safe,” she says. “We have excellent drivers.”

Families are excited about the bicycle too.

“I’ve had families from across the country email me their consent and ask for pictures,” says Lindsay.

Jackie even arranged a Zoom call between a resident and his sister during a ride. “The resident’s sister told me that she felt like she was right there with her brother doing something they did together as kids and that it was a special experience.”

The $13,750 bicycle arrived from Copenhagen in February 2021 thanks to the Covenant Foundation, which funded the therapeutic bike to be shared by two sites. Featuring three wheels, the bright red bike has an electric assist system for the driver and is easy for residents to mount and dismount. It has a two-person seat at the front, with a seatbelt and canopy cover. The “pilot” rides behind the passengers.

The bicycle pilots, who receive special training, meet the residents in the lobby or take the bike through the site to their suites to pick them up.

“The other day when it was really hot, a health care aide ran outside with popsicles for the residents saying, ‘You need this for your ride,’” says Jackie.

Jackie says she really appreciates that the bicycle allows residents and staff to be part of the community and to interact with people on the street in a very different way than riding a bus to an activity. 

Holy Cross Manor resident Bill Grimm enjoys having some quality time outside.

Anne and Asnet say they've met quite a few people on their rides.

“All the people we saw were very friendly. They smiled and said hello to us. I think we’re lucky to have the bicycle,” says Anne.

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