Aging simulation increases understanding of challenges facing older adults

By Kim Chaudoin on 11/9/2012

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What if you could grow older instantly — even if just for a few minutes — to experience the effects of aging and better understand the growing population of older adults?

Health care and older adult services providers recently had the opportunity to get in the minds — and bodies — of the clients they serve through an aging simulation exercise led by Lipscomb University’s School of TransformAging.

On Nov. 7, more than 70 members of the Williamson County Geriatric Council (WCGC) gathered at the Martin Center in Brentwood, Tenn., to grow older instantly to increase their awareness and understanding of the physical and emotional challenges facing older adults.

“This exercise is to help sensitize people to the process of aging and of the accommodations that older adults have to make in their daily lives as they age,” said Beverly Patnaik, director of academics for the School of TransformAging and expert in aging issues. “This allows participants to experience the inability to perform activities of daily living. The simulation allows healthy individuals to develop a greater appreciation of the effects of aging and increase their sensitivity to the feelings and needs of impaired and less independent seniors.”

During the simulation, WCGC members navigated a buffet line to get their lunch while impaired with various conditions common to aging adults. They wore eyeglasses that allowed them to experience the feeling of having macular degeneration, earplugs to simulate hearing loss and gloves to experience the loss of touch. They were also impaired with simulations of arthritic joints in the hands and knees by having their fingers and knees wrapped in bandages, pulmonary edema and the loss of taste sensation by inserting a cotton ball and straw in the nose, and diabetic neuropathy by putting dried peas in their shoes. The room was keep at a colder than normal temperature to simulate circulatory issues as well.

Participants were also challenged to perform routine activities such as making a cell phone call and getting change out of their wallets while impaired with the simulated effects.

Holli Passmore thought she was sensitive to the needs of older adults until she participated in the aging simulation.

“I really thought I was sensitive before,” said Passmore, administrator of independent living services at The Blakeford in Nashville. “But, this makes me much more sensitive to the needs of older adults and how we can serve them better.”

WGCG is comprised of health care and senior service professionals who represent medical and non-medical home care agencies, assisted living communities, nursing homes, hospice care, elder planning centers/estate planners, insurance agents, and attorneys among other services.

“This exercise is very beneficial to this group because we can truly feel beyond an emotional level what our clients, patients and residents are feeling and experiencing,”  said Luke Metcalf, WCGC president and director of marketing at Verble Estate Preservation & Advisors in Brentwood, Tenn. “I was able to feel what they feel and experience the limitations of mobility. It was a very effective exercise.”

Charla Long, dean of the College of Professional Studies, which houses the School of TransformAging, said professionals in this field should want to better understand their clients in order to serve them more compassionately and effectively.

“If you don’t want to understand what it’s like to walk in the shoes of older adults, why are you in this business? This is an opportunity to get to know what they are thinking and as a result what can I do to meet their needs better,” she said.

Rosie Donoho of Medical Inc., said her “older” self was “scared of the unknown.” Other participants said they felt “anxious,” “impatient,” “frustrated” and “dependent” and “incredibly vulnerable because I had to depend on someone else totally.” Others said they experienced feelings of anger because they couldn’t see what they were eating and couldn’t manipulate their utensils and “just decided that it was just easier not to eat.”

The School of TransformAging at Lipscomb University is designed to address the issues facing seniors and the individuals who serve them by finding lasting and meaningful solutions to America’s aging crisis. This crisis requires everyone to think differently about aging services and demands innovative leadership from all sectors, including education. The School of TranformAging offers an innovative multidisciplinary graduate certificate program and master’s program in aging services leadership that will help develop a new workforce that will passionately pursue careers with the aging and demonstrate a holistic skill set. It also serves as a neutral convener of conversations of significance regarding aging issues; provide useful and timely information and training for both professional and family caregivers; and serve as the catalyst for applied research and design for professionals in the field.