Health

As baby boomers age and need care, they may develop health conditions that reduce mobility and force them into isolation. A new biking program for aging Louisvillians aims to change that.

The concept of Cycling Without Age, an international program that now has a Louisville chapter, is to put elderly people on a trishaw to help improve their mental health. Catherine Birchfield, an occupational therapist, started the local chapter.

“Sometimes older people can become very isolated, and they don’t have people to talk to,” Birchfield said. “And so it’s a bike ride but it’s also companionship and someone to talk to.”

The bike is driven by a trained volunteer, with room for two people in the back. Bike rides can go around neighborhoods, in parks and Birchfield said eventually Waterfront Park. She said it’s a chance for older adults who may be mostly confined to a building to get out into nature.

A small study of the program in Wisconsin found seniors there had a positive experience with the trishaw.

“We’ve had reports from nursing staff at various skilled nursing facilities and memory care centers that clients are sleeping better,” Birchfield said. “Sometimes if a resident is upset or really depressed, they will put them on the bike and take them for a ride. And it really calms them down and relaxes them. Which is great, because that’s an alternative to maybe giving medicine.”

The first trishaw will be based at the Hallmark House Memory Care Center in Norton Commons, but Birchfield said they hope to take it to other nursing homes and memory care centers in neighborhoods where facilities may not have as many resources.

“We also take the trishaw to other skilled nursing facilities, especially those in lower socioeconomic areas that might not have very active activity departments,” Birchfield said.

Cycling Without Age, officially kicks off Sept. 18 between 3-5 p.m. in Norton Commons with free rides and festivities.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.