, Salem, MA

May 15, 2010

Nursing home on the range

Local seniors buck aging trend by taking rides on mechanical bull

By Ethan Forman
Staff writer

DANVERS — There's a first time for everything, and that includes riding a mechanical bull when you are nearly 80.

Yesterday, 79-year-old Doris Cummings, who lives at the 101-bed Twin Oaks Care and Rehabilitation Center on Locust Street, rode the entertainment device more fit for the 1980 John Travolta flick "Urban Cowboy" than the back parking lot of a skilled nursing home.

However, yesterday was Western Day at Twin Oaks, a community event that coincided with National Nursing Home Week, said Jen Tineo, the director of marketing.

The staff decided to give yesterday a Western twist.

Besides the barbecue hamburgers, jeans, plaid shirts and cowboy hats, the facility hired Just for Fun, a Danvers event rental company, to bring in a mechanical bull for the residents and the staff to try to ride. Each rider got a free T-shirt.

Tineo took two turns in the saddle. The second time she rode, she screamed and fell off, but all she suffered was a broken nail.

"It's really cool, but it was very difficult for me," Tineo said.

"I think it's probably a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our residents," said Robin Kellow, a Danvers resident and director of rehabilitation. "Not many of our residents have ridden a mechanical bull. I think it's great at this age for someone to try something new."

That was true of Cummings, who lived in Wenham before moving to Twin Oaks. She hung on for dear life as two members of the staff danced alongside her while the bull slowly spun and bucked in an inflatable, padded ring.

"All right, Doris!" yelled one of her fellow residents.

"I was scared at first," Cummings said after her ride, which included two full spins. "And then I said, 'Oh no, it's OK.'"

Ned Holden, at the tender age of 72, took the bull by the horns when he donned a 10-gallon hat and took several spins.

"Frightened, but fun," said Holden, who used to live in Middleton. He said the hardest part about riding the bull was getting on. When asked if he was going to go again, he said: "No, no, that's my one time."

"Excellent exercise," said Jose Anceta, 60, who, despite a problem with his leg, was helped on the bull for a spin. Anceta hails from El Salvador and said he once rode a real bull as a teenager.

"I was scared, they were helping me a lot there," said resident Mary Lou Healey, 59, who said in her younger days when she would go out, she had tried riding a mechanical bull.

While some of the residents who came out to the parking lot preferred to watch instead of ride, they got a delight in seeing staff members sent flying.

"It was very fun," said Heather Fejes, the facility's director of nursing, just after getting thrown off. She said there was some therapeutic benefit to mechanical bull riding and watching things unfold.

"I think it's great to get the residents outside," Fejes said.

It was a great opportunity for staff and residents to mingle, she said.

Director Gary DiPietro said he was not worried the bull would send one of the residents for more rehab.

"We've got a professional operating it, so we've got the idea of who can take more than a slight spill," DiPietro said.

That professional was Michael Ulibarri, who works for Just for Fun. Yesterday was the first time he had ever operated the bull at a nursing home.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673 or by e-mail at