One of the frustrating and sometimes soul destroying aspects of dementia is the loss of freedom and independence for those living with the condition.
But for residents of Martin Luther Homes, an innovative car designed by staff at the Melbourne aged care facility offers the invigorating feeling of getting behind the wheel again.
Herbie, as he is affectionately known, is a Mercedes Benz A Class with a twist.
With the help of a local mechanic, the car has been effectively cut in half, the front section remaining in-tact and the back replaced by a mechanism which allows aged care staff to safely control the vehicle from behind.
“So the residents that are in the car, they can still have the wheel and the gear knobs and the pedals, but it’s not functional anymore,” Marlene Franke, people, culture and communications officer at Martin Luther Homes explains.
The vehicle also features internal cameras so the staff member can see inside the car and make sure the resident driver is OK.
And,of course, Herbie wouldn’t be complete without a sound system, so that residents can listen to their favourite music while driving around the facility’s grounds.
Although they are not fully in control of the vehicle, Franke says Herbie puts a smile on residents’ faces, as well as triggering significant memories.
“Especially here in Australia, everyone used to have a car,” she says.
The idea was coined by Martin Luther Homes’ former marketing and innovation manager Oliver Huethe, who worked together with colleagues and mechanics to fully develop the one-of-a-kind off-road vehicle.
Although he was launched in 2019, due to coronavirus restrictions Herbie has been in lockdown for most of that time, but Franke says residents and staff are looking forward to getting him out of the garage soon.
“It’s just great to see the excitement and the smiles. We’re planning to use it a lot and our residents definitely look forward to using the car, it’s very special for them.
“Hopefully in the future it will become something that is done weekly for the aged care residents,” she says.
“Also maybe for our retirement village, we have some residents that even though they are more independent, some of them can’t drive a car anymore, so it will also be something that they will be able to enjoy.”
And if nearby aged care facilities are interested, Franke says Herbie could be rented out.