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Aged care residents take a trip down memory lane with new exercise technology

Getting exercise and staying mentally engaged is often challenging as we age, and aged care homes are always coming up with new and interesting ways of keeping their communities engaged and healthy.

Companies around Australia are also working to that end, and Litivity has come up with a novel way of getting older Aussies moving, improving social connectedness and keeping people engaged with their ‘Trip Down Memory Lane’ program.

Trip Down Memory Lane is a simple concept, a virtual reality streetscape is linked to a peddling device allowing residents to explore the great cities of the world, reminiscing on past experiences or creating new ones while exploring the unknown.

“It’s a programme that we developed in collaboration with Dementia Australia that allows residents, and people at home as well, to gain light cycling exercises from foot or hand pedals, as they navigate their way through a number of streets around the world in a number of cities around the world,” says Litivity chief executive Andrew Smith.

“And then having the opportunity to not only get the benefits of light exercise, but the cognitive aspect as well, and the impact on cognitive impairment. The key to the programme is that you can stop with the resident, and the bike stops, the video stops, and you can walk around some of these beautiful cities, like along the Thames to London Bridge or the Champs-Elysees or Sydney Harbour.”

The tools are given to each home to run the sessions themselves within their schedule, and as residents stop to enjoy the scenery, the staff member running the session can stop with them and talk through some interesting facts about the city using the resource folder provided.

Smith says this technology is inspired by similar programs already available but is an improvement as most VR simulations are not connected to the bikes like they are in this case. All an aged care home needs is a smart TV to set up the Apple TV-style box that Litivity provides to run the program, all with no internet required.

From the heavens

“It’s been a godsend,” says Pauline Cole, wellbeing and lifestyle manager at Nazareth House aged care home in Camberwell, Victoria.

We are talking about the struggle to keep residents healthy and happy in these times of home lockdowns, and although Pauline and her colleague Peter Mennilii – the Nazareth house physio – both say that this pandemic has brought out the creativity in staff and residents alike, this program has certainly helped.

“It has been a godsend,” Peter agrees. “We’ve got a regular set of residents that are on it regularly who are really enjoying it both physically and also for the enjoyment they get out of, well, travelling – a new way of travelling through whatever cities they choose to travel through,” he says.

Pauline and Peter say that residents who have been to the cities they are virtually cycling through reminisce with others about the experience and they have postcards for the residents to send to family and friends about their ‘trips’ as an added layer of fun and creativity.

“I think since we’ve been in lockdown more and more people are leaving their rooms. And it’s been really, really good,” says Pauline.

“And they need to be with people. They need to see and speak with others.

“It’s been a great add-on activity that we didn’t have previously, and which seems to be very popular. And they certainly get benefit out of it both physically and emotionally,” Peter adds.

Peter says that the cycling is made to fit a wide range of physical abilities and you can adjust the resistance to suit the resident, helping to build up capabilities slowly.

And for some of the residents who are less than keen, the trips are a way of almost hiding exercise in a bit of fun and conversation.

“They’re so into the travel aspect that they’re not thinking about the peddling. Sometimes they’ll get a bit tired and stop. And at that point they realise, ‘Oh, I’ve got to keep peddling’, because when they stop then the program stops,” Peter says.

As the weather turns colder, Pauline and Peter say that the trips will become an added bonus for residents who can’t get outside as much, but the emotional aspect of the trips are also important and the reminiscing can be therapeutic for some.

“There’s a gentleman who often travels to Andorra because what’s on the actual screen is where he walked with his wife, and his wife passed away. So he often cries during that period. And that’s a really good thing,” Pauline says.

“They get to choose the country where they want to go or the place they want to travel to. As soon as he saw Andorra, he started and told me about his wife.”

Start-up costs

The trip down memory lane set up costs $2500 for the equipment and training with an ongoing cost of $200 a month.

“It’s $200 a month for software and support and training, and we can pull reports out of the back end as well for their continuous improvement file,” Smith says.

“And our methodology is not just to sell boxes and have them sit in corners. We want to provide a raft of support mechanisms and training so that these continue to be used and show good ROI.

“So first year’s a little bit more expensive, it works out to just under $5,000 for the year. But year two, then you’re into $200 a month. Which, even if you had 50 residents, it’s $4 a month, $1 a week.

“It’s not even a cup of coffee. But you know as well as I do, the constraints aged care facilities face are tough.”

Dementia Australia have come on board as an educational partner, Smith says, and are continuing to research the effects that the program has on cognitive impairment.

“Even for the mildly cognitive impaired resident, not only does it stimulate their brain for that period, but it also stimulates them for the rest of the day. So, the impact is more protracted than just a one-off activity,” Smith says.

“We’ve been very lucky. The pilot sites we’ve been assessing over the last six to eight months have said particularly in these last six to eight weeks it’s been a godsend really, because you get the combination of exercise and then the cognitive benefits and then the fun and the enjoyment.

“And just little things like they can send postcards home to their families to say, ‘Your mum’s just ridden around Paris.’ Or they do food weeks of riding around the US, and try hot dogs and they bring out photos and diaries.

“And it’s just some beautiful heart-warming moments when you see people that haven’t been to places for 50 years remembering Paris. And of course they sort of forget that they’re actually getting some light exercise as well. So the added bonus of that is really nice.”

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