Much has been said and written about providing an adequate care for our elders. Despite best efforts, many of them will experience loneliness and isolation due to their old age, limited mobility, and frail constitution. It’s been proven that daily outings improve not only physical but also mental health of seniors, because they get to socialize and are shaken out of their often dull and monotone routines of their nursing homes. But what to do when the mind is willing but the body can’t keep up?
Ole Kassow was passing a nursing home every day while he commuted to work in 2012. Every morning he would see Thorkild, neatly dressed 97-year-old gentleman, seated on a bench outside the facility, waving at him. This sparked the idea that put the whole rollercoaster into motion. Kassow wondered if Thorkild, and many others like him across Denmark, would like to get back on the bike. “Because most Copenhageners love cycling, I assumed he’d love to go back out in his community, to interact with his neighbors, and do something he’d probably always done in his life,” he says. He asked for the nursing home’s permission and rented a trishaw – a cargo tricycle that has a passenger compartment located in front of the cyclist. And it was a ride to remember because it not only led him on a guided tour of Thorkild’s eventful life (among other, he discovered that this dapper grandad used to be a royal guard in 1938) but mainly, it prompted him to create the nonprofit Cycling Without Age.
It all started just with Kassow giving regular rides to nursing homes’ residents in Copenhagen, but within a few years the project spread out to 250 chapters in 29 cities all around the world.
At first, there were immense visible changes on the seniors that got to be taken out on a ride in the trishaw. They returned invigorated, talkative, and more willing to spend less time in bed and more time outside. Kassow got in touch with city officials, namely with the civil society consultant from the City of Copenhagen, Dorthe Pedersen (now Cycling Without Age), who bought into the idea and managed to help him get not only one, but five trishaws for five nursing homes. From that moment, Cycling Without Age project become a rolling train that was impossible to stop.
And how does it work now? Volunteers (pilots, as the cyclists are called) sign up for bike rides with the elderly through a simple booking system as often or as rarely as they want to. It’s all driven by people’s own motivation. On January 2017, the system boasted around 8.000 people signed for the program and cycling actively.
On their page, you can find the essential explanation of the dream on which the project is based:
“We dream of creating a world together, in which the access to active citizenship creates happiness among our fellow elderly citizens by providing them with an opportunity to remain an active part of society and the local community. We do that by giving them the right to wind in their hair, the right to experience the city and nature close up from the bicycle and by giving them an opportunity to tell their story in the environment where they have lived their lives.”
Apart from the dream and individual motivation, the pilots are encouraged and led by five guiding principles: Generosity (and kindness), Slow Cycling, Storytelling (because many amazing stories could be forgotten, Relationships (creating connections, building trust), Without Age (which is pretty much self-explanatory).
What can we say apart from: “The Danes did it again.” This should be an inspiration to nations all over the world, because breaking down barriers and making life easier on those who can’t exactly do it by themselves should be every conscious person’s priority.