Causes Week 2020: Virtual trishaw rides help elderly in Singapore fight isolation

Causes Week runs this year from Dec 20 to 25. It shines a light on various individuals and groups, and shows how they are making a difference through their chosen causes within the community.

Mr Abdul Rahim Abdullah holding the virtual reality headset at Jamiyah Nursing Home, on Dec 16, 2020. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE
Therapy assistant Mark Kevin Bartolome holding the VR headset for Mr Abdul Rahim Abdullah at Jamiyah Nursing Home, on Dec 16, 2020. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - At the height of the pandemic, nursing homes became out of bounds to visitors and volunteers to protect their vulnerable elderly residents.

So Cycling Without Age Singapore, a charity which takes seniors from nursing homes and senior activity centres for trishaw rides, turned to technology to continue giving the elderly a chance to explore Singapore.

The charity worked with Mind Palace, a social enterprise that develops virtual reality (VR) technology for seniors, to develop a virtual reality trishaw ride.

Using a trishaw, they filmed some of the routes the charity used to take seniors on, like those in Admiralty Park, Bishan Park and Gardens by the Bay.

All the seniors then had to do was to put on a VR headset, and for the next 10 minutes, they would sees the view as though they were actually riding the trishaw.

The initiative started in August and more than 80 seniors have had the VR ride so far.

Mr Abdul Rahim Abdullah, 64, a resident at the Jamiyah Nursing home, is one of them. Mr Rahim, whose mobility has been affected by a stroke, said: "It's very good. I like the view. It feels like I'm actually out there exploring."

Mr Mark Bartolome, a therapy assistant at Jamiyah Nursing Home, said most of the residents there enjoyed the VR ride as it allows them to explore Singapore without going out.

Cycling Without Age was started in 2012 by Danish social entrepreneur Ole Kassow. The movement is now in 35 countries.

Danish expatriate Pernille Bussone had a free trishaw, given by a Danish university, shipped to Singapore and started taking seniors here on joyrides.

Singaporean social entrepreneur Aaron Yeoh and Ms Marieke Bink, who is also Danish, carried on Ms Bussone's work after she went back to Denmark.

Cycling Without Age Singapore was registered as a charity in 2018, said its general manager, Mr Addie Elicano. It now has 10 trishaws sponsored by the Temasek Foundation for its Moving Generations programme.

Before the pandemic, youth volunteers took seniors on electric powered trishaws to various parks and park connectors around the island, with more than 6,000 rides carried out.

Ms Elicano said: "The seniors love it. Some of them have limited mobility. (With the trishaw), they get to go out. They get to go to green spaces and feel the wind in their hair."

Elderly or disabled members of the public who would like to try the service for free can call 8189-9434.

To find out more, visit the Cycling Without Age website.

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