Making Dreams Come True: One Ride at a Time


How do you make dreams come true for residents in long-term care? You just du-et!

That’s the name of the newest piece of recreation equipment at the St. John’s Long-Term Care Facility – the ‘duet’ bicycle!

As therapeutic recreation development specialists, my colleague, Rebecca Maloney and I know first-hand the importance of using leisure to improve health, independence and well-being.

But for many of our residents who battle chronic illness, or don’t have the ability to move as freely as they once did, the joy of bike riding was a thing of the past.

Until now.

The duet bicycle, built for two – a resident and a therapeutic recreation therapist – is used as a part of therapy for our residents who experience mild to moderate depression or who are at-risk of depression, for example residents suffering from chronic illness, bereavement and loss or those who are socially isolated. In addition, this ‘bike therapy’ is used in dementia care, to help revive past memories, or to reconnect with the outside community – especially for those who had an interest in biking or the outdoors.

The duet bicycle, St. John’s Long-Term Care facility

The duet bicycle, St. John’s Long-Term Care facility

Residents’ spirits seemed to lift with enthusiasm and excitement as soon as they saw the bike arrive at the facility!

Long-term care resident Elizabeth Matthews, for example, was ecstatic to learn about the duet bike. The fact that she has been on a ventilator for approximately five years didn’t stop her from dreaming of riding this bicycle.

Wanting to make her wish come true, Rebecca and I knew that we would have to do some innovative thinking.

Pedal power: an interdisciplinary approach

So we spoke with Elizabeth’s family and met with her nurse practitioner, Michelle Whittle, and other nursing staff to help us figure out a way to get Elizabeth on the bike. The duet bike is fairly easy to use; normally, only a therapeutic recreation therapist rides with a resident – but in Elizabeth’s case, we needed to think about her ventilator too.

Fortunately, we were able to accommodate this machine, and also ensure that it would be safe once it was portable.

Two people would accompany Elizabeth – one to ride the bike and carry the portable suction and another to provide medical support.

And so, in the summer of 2015, Elizabeth rode a bike again!

(l-r): Therapeutic Recreation Development Specialist Tim Colbourne and resident Elizabeth Matthew on the duet bicycle outside the St. John’s Long-Term facility. Back: Nurse Craig Heffernan rides along to provide medical support.

(l-r): Therapeutic Recreation Development Specialist Tim Colbourne and resident Elizabeth Matthew on the duet bicycle outside the St. John’s Long-Term facility. Back: Nurse Craig Heffernan rides along to provide medical support.

“It was so nice to feel the sun on my face and the wind in my hair!” Elizabeth says with a big smile.

Elizabeth says the pleasure of riding a bike exceeded all of her expectations. On that day, we took pictures and recorded a video so Elizabeth’s family, who lives away, could also be part of her excitement.

The thrill of the ride

And Elizabeth is not the only one who feels liberated by the rush of wind – and the smooth spin of tires. Taking the bike for a ride represents a measure of independence that many felt they had lost.

Fellow resident Kevin Hynes says he can hardly wait to go on the bicycle. “Even though I am all strapped in, once the bike gets going, I feel free,” Kevin says.

We are thrilled to see the positive impact the bike has had on all of our residents. And on us, too!

A bike ride might seem like a very simple thing – but for our residents, it’s anything but. It helps residents realize that just because they are in a long-term care facility, doesn’t mean that they can’t still engage in activities they once enjoyed. This unique piece of equipment draws a lot of attention and has proven to be a perfect ice breaker prompting lively conversations among residents, family, staff and visitors.

(l-r): Therapeutic Recreation Development Specialist Rebecca Maloney and resident Kevin Hynes, riding the duet bicycle indoors at the St. John’s Long-Term Care facility

(l-r): Therapeutic Recreation Development Specialist Rebecca Maloney and resident Kevin Hynes, riding the duet bicycle indoors at the St. John’s Long-Term Care facility

(l-f) Therapeutic Recreation Development Specialist Nancy Hodder and resident Donna Ellsworth riding the duet bicycle outside of the St. John’s Long-Term Care facility

(l-f) Therapeutic Recreation Development Specialist Nancy Hodder and resident Donna Ellsworth riding the duet bicycle outside of the St. John’s Long-Term Care facility

Works in winter, too!

Our team has many plans for the continued success of the duet biking program. During the cold months, we partnered with The Works, Memorial University’s field house, so that our long-term care residents can continue to enjoy riding the bike indoors.

(l-r) Long-term resident David Makinson (deceased) enjoyed indoor time on the Duet bike with Therapeutic Recreation Development Specialist Nancy Hodder.

(l-r) Long-term resident David Makinson (deceased) enjoyed indoor time on the Duet bike with Therapeutic Recreation Development Specialist Nancy Hodder.

Once springtime rolls around again, we plan to roll, as well – and take advantage of the good weather and the many outdoor trails around the city. Dreams come true in many ways – sometimes they’re just a bike ride away! ■

February is Therapeutic Recreation Awareness Month

This story was written by Nancy Hodder and Rebecca Maloney, therapeutic recreation development specialists, in collaboration with Amanda Squires, a public relations co-operative education student with Eastern Health’s Corporate Communications Department.

5 responses to “Making Dreams Come True: One Ride at a Time

  1. What a joy for the residents to ride in — I can see smiles all around as it approaches anyone and everyone. Great job TR dept.

  2. Your support helps to make a “dream come true” for a Lehigh Valley child who is seriously, chronically, or terminally ill. Capturing memories . One dream at a time.

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