Seniors pedal down memory lane during virtual bike rides
By Ken Gordon
The Columbus Dispatch
DUBLIN (AP) — As Zeida Inkley pedaled up to one of her family’s old homes, her face lit up.
“Oh, this is the house!” she exclaimed. “Oh, gosh, yes!”
But Inkley was nowhere near the sunny hillside property in Atascadero, California, where she and her husband lived from 1991 to 2004.
Instead, she was 2,400 miles away, sitting in the fitness room of Dublin Retirement Village, where she now lives.
Inkley was using a BikeAround, a machine consisting of a chair, handlebars and pedals placed in front of a large, white umbrella-shaped screen. When an address is typed into Google Street View on a laptop, users can be taken virtually to the location and “pedal” up and down the street.
Senior Star, the company that owns the retirement community, bought 11 BikeArounds late last year. Two were placed at its Dublin facility.
Since January, residents have been signing up for 30-minute sessions.
While trying out BikeAround recently, Inkley, 90, was accompanied by the younger of her two daughters, Ria Waugh, 53, a Dublin resident. Together they explored several other locations where Inkley used to live, including a residence in Georgia and another in England.
The California house, though, seemed to appeal most to Inkley, who lives in the independent-living portion of Dublin Retirement Village.
She and her daughter reminisced, laughing as they prompted each other with memories.
“Do you remember the time the deer was eating the wreath right off the front door?” Waugh asked.
Inkley mentioned how she and her husband, Joe, who died 12 years ago, built a guesthouse on the property and a decorative front gate. Both still remain.
“It was neat to see the places and see her get excited,” Waugh said afterward. “From the time she found out this was available, she has been writing down addresses that she could go and visit.”
BikeAround, invented in Sweden in 2013, is owned by Camanio Care, which sold its first machines in the United States to Senior Star, a company spokesman said.
The purchase was inspired by a promotional video that Google made in 2017, including a BikeAround demonstration to help mark the 10th anniversary of the Google Street View mapping program.
Ron Keller, executive director of Dublin Retirement Village, saw the video and in September recommended it to Senior Star officials.
“We saw it, and we were thinking, ‘Wow, we want to get it into our communities quickly,'” said Taylor Hernandez, vice president of Senior Star, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. “‘What a difference maker this program could be.'”
Hernandez said Senior Star paid $137,500 — $12,500 apiece — for the 11 units, which have been well-received by users.
“At our community in Davenport, Iowa, there is a group of gentlemen who have started doing it all together one day a week, like a men’s club,” Hernandez said. “They pick different places to drive around, like an outing.”
Although the BikeAround provides exercise and pleasant memories in any setting, it can serve a more therapeutic purpose in memory-care facilities, according to Donald Freidenberg, a neurologist who works with such patients at Dublin Retirement Village.
BikeAround, Freidenberg said, provides users some exercise, which has been found to help slow mental decline, and might also give them an emotional boost.
“I imagine that taking a virtual ride through your neighborhood can be soothing and put the patient in a good frame of mind,” he said. “That could lead to better behavior, maybe better sleep and fewer medications.”
In the memory-care facility at Dublin recently, dementia patient Pat Stenner, 89, rode the BikeAround while one of her sons, Charlie Stenner, 67, watched and prompted his mother.
They rode through the Plain City neighborhood where Mrs. Stenner and her husband, Charles, who died in December, lived and raised three boys from 1964 to 2012.
When Mrs. Stenner mentioned that the family’s large house had just one bathroom, Jessie Ritter, the program director in memory care, suggested that sharing it must have been a challenge.
Replied Mrs. Stenner: “We had plenty of trees in the yard.”
Fifteen minutes into her pedaling, she’d seen and ridden enough. As the BikeAround unit was switched off and the screen went blank, she said to her son, “We had a good time in that house, didn’t we?”
Said her son: “Yes, we did, Mom.”