Cycling Without Age Singapore

Virtual trishaw rides let isolated seniors get out and about

Jamiyah Nursing Home therapy assistant Mark Bartolome adjusting a virtual reality headset for Mr Abdul Rahim Abdullah, 64, a resident at the home whose mobility was affected by a stroke. Through the headset, Mr Rahim is able to go on a virtual trisha
Jamiyah Nursing Home therapy assistant Mark Bartolome adjusting a virtual reality headset for Mr Abdul Rahim Abdullah, 64, a resident at the home whose mobility was affected by a stroke. Through the headset, Mr Rahim is able to go on a virtual trishaw ride. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

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 out 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 VR trishaw ride.

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

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

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 allowed 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 for rides.

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 Addie Elicano. It now has 10 trishaws sponsored by 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.

Theresa Tan

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2020, with the headline Virtual trishaw rides let isolated seniors get out and about . Subscribe