Kenneth Judd may be 99, but it’s a bike tour de force.
The nearly centennial last month won a silver medal in a global cycling competition that had more than 5,000 entrants.
To win second place, Judd cycled 2,348 miles (3,779 km) in 26 days. That’s an average of over 90 miles per 24 hours, a distance many of us younger than us couldn’t walk in one day, let alone 25 more in a row.
While cycling, Mr. Judd was able to enjoy quiet country lanes in his native Yorkshire and the Lake District. Yet he was actually moving on the spot, using a high-tech exercise bike at a nursing home in Warwickshire.
Now in its fourth edition, the world event is called Road World For Seniors. Open to seniors and people with dementia, participants ride stationary bikes manufactured by the Norwegian company Motitech.
Exercise bikes are connected to a laptop or other computer, which in turn is connected to a TV or monitor. Then, when the user pedals, he sees himself moving through the scenario on the screen.
This type of technology has been available in gyms and for home cyclists for several years, but Motitech’s Motiview system is aimed specifically at older people and people with dementia.
The idea is for users to cycle along a video of the streets, or roads, near where they lived as children or young adults, so that they can get physical and mental exercise.
They, or their assistant, can also choose from a series of playlists of backing songs compiled by music therapists to inspire them to keep hustling.
The Road World For Seniors event is supported by British Cycling, the governing body of sport in the UK. This year’s competition ran from 6 September to 1 October, the winners were the ones who cycled the furthest in that time period – the system records their distances.
This was the second time that Mr. Judd attended the event. A World War II rider, he finished seventh in the 2020 competition (Covid-19 didn’t stop him) and has been training on a Motiview motorcycle for this year’s race since January.
“I wanted to do better than last year, so I calculated how many kilometers and hours I would have to do each day,” he says.
“And I went cycling when there was no one else around, late at night or early in the morning. The night staff were good at bringing me drinks, even though my tea ended up being cold as I focused on cycling.
“You have to focus on your speed and how far you are going. Sometimes I have looked at Yorkshire, and other – areas of the lakes.”
Lindy Renaud, wellness coordinator at a nursing home in London, says the key factor behind Motiview’s growing popularity is that older cyclists are encouraged to remember their childhood.
“It’s good for their mind, body and soul,” he says. “Fade happy memories with them saying ‘Oh, I remember that’.”
While not all older people need to rely on technology, more technological innovation is emerging to help them tackle complex issues like loneliness, safety and illness, or just to keep fit.
We live in a world with a very aging population: by 2050, 16% of the world population will be 65 or older, from the current 9%, according to the United Nations.
At the UK’s National Innovation Center for Aging (NICA) at Newcastle University, they are currently road-testing Gita, an Italian cargo-carrying robot that a person could use to haul groceries home from the supermarket.
At the knee, it moves up to 10 km / h and can hold up to 23 kg of objects. It uses an artificial intelligence software system and video cameras to recognize its owner and follow him around, a few meters away.
“It is slightly different from the traditional idea of a robot,” says Nicola Palmarini, director of Nica. “He doesn’t talk or talk. He’s like a faithful dog, keep following you.
“People stop and start talking to you like a puppy. It’s an ice pick. And research shows that seniors tend to walk more with the robot, as it follows you and allows you to do things like go shopping.”
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The pandemic has seen most of us switch to video calling to keep in touch with family and friends. But even the most tech-savvy have sometimes struggled to get Zoom, Skype, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, or similar applications to work.
To make it easier for older people to receive video calls, Norwegian company No Isolation makes a standalone video screen device, called Komp.
Once set up, the person’s registered relatives – such as children or grandchildren – can video call them directly from their cell phones or computers. As long as the Komp is on, it automatically connects to the call after a 10 second countdown. And if the owner doesn’t feel chatty, they can simply turn the machine off via its single button.
The machine also automatically displays photos sent by relatives.
Trish Greenhalgh, a professor of primary care health sciences at the University of Oxford, bought a Komp for her mother-in-law about three years ago. “She lives alone in London and her family wanted to keep in touch with her,” says Ms Greenhalgh.
“All he has to do is turn it on and he sees the pictures of the grandchildren and everything we want to put there. There are no touch screens or passwords to remember.”
However, Ms Greenhalgh adds that the machine would be more beneficial if it connected to the user’s doctor in the future. And while receiving video calls on a Komp does not require any effort, to make one you have to use the connected mobile phone app.
Caroline Abrahams, director of Age UK charity, warns that while technology can actually help older people, it shouldn’t be seen as a substitute for human contact and assistance.
“Even the best of technology rarely replaces the help and support that most older people appreciate and need from kind, busy people,” he says. “As the technology becomes more sophisticated, we can expect its role to increase, but we mustn’t fool ourselves that it can replace human touch, or a chat and a laugh with another human being.”
Back at his Warwickshire nursing home, Mr. Judd is taking a break from cycling, at least for the winter.
“I won’t be looking at motorcycles for now,” he says. “But I will consider taking him back in early spring and making another try in next year’s competition.”
Additional reports from the New Tech Economy series publisher Will Smale.
- Senior citizens
- Nursing homes
- Care of the elderly
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