Villa Ventura resident Karin McAdams chats with Peter Crane, executive director, as she takes a virtual ride on BikeAround. Senior Star communities, which includes Villa Ventura, say they are the first to purchase and install this technology in the U.S. Photo by Jill Draper.

Villa Ventura residents BikeAround the world

By Jill Draper

After Karin McAdams’ book group read about the Silk Road, she wanted to see some of the places mentioned. So she settled into a cushioned chair in Villa Ventura’s BikeAround room, entered her destination on a laptop keyboard, grabbed the handlebars of a stationary bike and began pedaling. Then she was off, navigating a road in western China spread out before her on an 8-foot-wide screen.

On another day she pedaled along the side streets of Oban, Scotland, a small town she’ll visit for real with her daughter this summer.

“Isn’t it gorgeous?” she says, as images of old stone buildings and a distant view of the sea flash by.

BikeAround is technology acquired recently by Senior Star communities, including Villa Ventura at 12100 Wornall Rd. The set-up includes a modified bicycle, a projector, a curved screen and a laptop connected to Google Street View. Entrepreneurs in Sweden originally developed it for dementia patients to recall the past. But Villa Ventura has no memory care unit, so independent and assisted living residents there use it for fun.

“It gets them engaged and energized,” says Peter Crane, executive director. “They can show friends and family where they grew up and where they’ve traveled.” And while the bike provides some exercise, Crane says, “We’ve found that a lot of our residents benefit just from the reminiscing.”

Resident Bill Fields bikes down a lane where he once traveled with wife. Photo by Jill Draper.

Bill Fields, whom Crane introduces as a widely traveled man, rolls up on a wheelchair before he takes the remaining steps on foot to the bike room. It’s a bad leg day, he notes. But soon he’s exploring the roadways of Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, where he traveled in 2000 to attend a meeting on international radiation protection on the anniversary of the atomic bomb drop. Fields taught radiation physics and radiation biology for many years at the University of Missouri in Columbia and Kansas City.

After pointing out the Genbaku Dome, one of the only structures left standing after the bomb, and a stone chest that contains the names of all casualties, he asks Crane to enter a new destination. Suddenly he’s halfway around the world, zipping through the streets of Banff, Canada, where mountains rim the horizon.

“Get out of the way,” he mutters to a pedestrian on the screen. It’s a natural reaction, even though accidents cannot occur on a virtual ride. The only concern is a slight dizzy feeling for some people, which is alleviated by slowing the pace.

“Isn’t this something?” Fields says. “It brings me back, because my wife traveled here with me. She passed away, but it’s like we’re together again having a wonderful time.”

There’s a certain novelty effect to the BikeAround system, which costs between $10,000 to $14,000, Crane says. And like all senior products, there’s always room for improvement. He wishes the system was smaller and more mobile, especially for bedbound residents. Still, he describes it as “a neat idea.” Residents can use it by themselves or schedule one-on-one sessions with a staff member.

Later this spring, memory care residents from Morningside Place in Overland Park will be invited to experience BikeAround at Villa Ventura. “We’re in the same profession, so we try to learn from each other and help each other out,” Crane says.

Meanwhile, BikeAround helps him and his staff learn more about their residents. When McAdams decides to cycle along Boulevard St. Germain in Paris, she thinks back about living there in a fifth floor apartment as a college junior and passing an oral exam while suffering from measles. “I was a French major. I got pretty fluent,” she says.

“I didn’t know you did that,” says Crane. “I learned something new.”

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