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MHA Graduate Andrew Holland spearheaded combining cycling and virtual reality to help seniors get active

Posted by School of Health Administration on April 16, 2019 in News, Students, Research, Alumni & Friends, Awards

Dalhousie graduate student Andrew Holland has helped facilitate the adoption of BikeAround, an innovation targeted towards seniors in Atlantic Canada that combines low-impact exercise with virtual reality.

The Masters of Health Administration student spearheaded the initiative to promote the physical and cognitive health of seniors. BikeAround is the first technology of its kind in Atlantic Canada.

Andrew was awarded the Student Entrepreneur of the Year award at the Dalhousie Impact Awards on Thursday, March 27 for his innovation.

Combing exercise and cognitive stimulation

BikeAround uses a stationary bike equipped with rotating handlebars that is hooked up to a screen surrounding the bike. As the cyclist pedals, a projector displays a virtual path on the screens using Google street view. The rider's view swivels as the handlebars turn, creating an immersive experience for the seniors.

The inspiration for adopting the BikeAround, says Andrew, was the existence of programs in Scandanavian countries which take seniors on rickshaw rides around the city – especially beneficial for those with mobility issues.

“They take seniors around and they found that It was really good for their mental health as well as they cognitive health in terms of bringing back some memories and things like that – helping with dementia.”

BikeAround was funded, in large part, by a Healthy Canadians grant through the Canadian Medical Association. The grant is awarded yearly and provides $10,000 to fund a health-oriented organization in each province. The focus of the Healthy Canadians grant this year was on Senior Health and Community Well-Being.

“We fit into that really well," he says. "It was a huge help. The total cost was $22,000, and BikeAround probably would not have happened if they had not given the money. It was very much appreciated.”

Companionship across decades

“There’s a bit of an issue with our senior population and social isolation – especially when they’re living in [long-term care] homes or have cognitive decline,” says Andrew.

He is working to create a partnership between Ocean View and local high schools to pair upper-year student with a senior companion. As the senior residents complete their exercise, the students provide them with company and help to stimulate their cognitive function through conversation. Holland says the residents and volunteer coordinators have shown immense enthusiasm for the program.

The senior-student companion program will run once a week for about half an hour with the focus on fostering intergenerational relationships and encouraging conversation.

“It’s nice to be able to facilitate [socialization] in some way – especially with an intergenerational program where the youth are able to bring some kind of energy and enthusiasm and the seniors are able to impart some wisdom, a little bit of history about their culture," he says. "It’s a nice trade-off. It’s good for them.”

BikeAround is set to officially launch on May 31, 2019.