Taking a leisurely bike ride in the park hardly seems like a luxury to a lot of people, but for folks living in an assisted living facility, it can be the highlight of a day, or even a week. For people suffering from memory issues, it can be the only chance to breathe fresh air for a matter of days or longer.
"We have a memory care unit, and I have found it's been most beneficial for the memory care people because they don't get out. They are in a facility that doesn't give them a lot of opportunity to get outside," said Loralie Walker, the activity director for Grace Assisted Living in Meridian. "Every day is a different journey for an Alzheimer's patient, but the smile on their face when they pull up on that bike, that's how you measure [success]."
Walker guides a number of Grace residents to Kleiner Park on bi-monthly excursions to take part in Cycling Without Age, a non-profit that takes seniors on rides around their cities in a tri-shaw, a type of bicycle with a cart towed behind it. The organization was founded in Copenhagen, Denmark, but has chapters around the world—including one in Meridian.
Walker and a troupe of seniors eager to get outside sat in the shaded benches in Kleiner Park on a crisp September afternoon. None of the group were memory-care patients, but all seemed happy to take an afternoon break with friends.
One of those people, James, who did not give his last name, is an 87-year-old new resident at Grace. While more than happy to be outside, he was a little disappointed he didn't get to drive the tri-shaw.
"I thought we were going to pedal!" he said.
Still, James joined up with another resident and went for a ride around the park. Despite exclaiming multiple times that he could out-walk just about anyone around the park, he still seemed to enjoy himself.
While it's an opportunity for seniors to grab some outside time, it's also a chance for them to meet others and share their stories. That's one of Cycling Without Age-Idaho Manager Kalynn McLain's favorite parts of running the small organization.
"The seniors have such a history to share, and this is giving them the opportunity to tell someone about their lives," she said.
One Alzheimer's patient, whom McLain said hardly ever spoke, shocked everyone when she said she had had a great time with the group during one ride. Success and improvement for seniors is often measured in small increments, but small sparks of joy can make all the difference.
The Idaho chapter originally started in Eagle, which is how McLain got involved. She was out and about with her mother and decided she wanted to take her for a ride that was planned for that afternoon. That day, unfortunately, was unbearably hot, with a toxic algae bloom at Eagle Island State Park, which caused the ride to be cancelled.
After that, she offered to be a volunteer pilot, or the person who drives the tri-shaw. One thing led to another, and the former manager offered to give McLain the bike to run the non-profit herself. It's not easy work, and it's not even her full-time gig. She owns and operates Enhance Fitness Coaching, but makes time for the seniors.
The best part for her: "You know, I think it's the smiles on their faces when they come back from their rides and say how great it is... I think that is so beneficial for a senior center," she said. "I think what they enjoy is not only being outside but seeing the children playing in the fields or on the playground."
This season alone, McLain and her volunteers have given approximately 190 rides, which she refers to as "touches to seniors' lives." She even gave a ride to a 101-year-old woman this year, who will turn 102 in November.
The next challenge is obtaining funding for next season, which McLain is requesting from the participating homes in a letter. Once that's taken care of, McLain and company will be ready to ride come springtime.