The Aging Game

February 24, 2015

The Aging Game - WheelchairThe saying "you can't really understand another person's experience until you've walked a mile in their shoes" rings true for those who work in the health care field.

At times, it's difficult for individuals in the medical community to empathize with their patients because they've never walked in their shoes.

To help bridge this gap, respiratory care students in the Bachelor of Science in Health Professions (BSHP) program, an educational collaboration between the University of Minnesota Rochester (UMR) and the Mayo School of Health Sciences (MSHS), participated in a game aimed towards improving their attitudes towards caring for a specific demographic -- the elderly.

"The Aging Game is a simulation designed to allow students to personally experience the losses that occur with aging," said Vanessa King, RRT, M.Ed, and Respiratory Care Program director at MSHS.

During the simulation, students' mobility, fine dexterity skills, vision and hearing are altered through the use of devices like ear plugs, modified goggles, gloves, and leg braces.

The students are also given a card explaining their disabilities and life events, a small amount of money, and white chips representing their self-esteem.The Aging Game - Grocery Store

"The students are paired with a partner and then, over a period of approximately 1.5 hours, they complete errands in a controlled environment, such as grocery shopping, stopping at the bank and post office, and eating lunch at a restaurant," said King.

Respiratory care student Rosemary Klindworth said it was difficult doing the simulation as partners because, in her case, someone else was relying on her for help.

"There were things that I simply couldn't help my partner with which was just as frustrating for me as well as my partner," she said.

By the end of the simulation, students gradually lost their money, sometimes being stolen by other participants who claim to be "helping," and lost their self-esteem.

According to the 2010 census, the 65 years and over population has increased at a faster rate than the total U.S population.

"Unfortunately, aging comes with a price of worsening health and respiratory therapist primarily work with people experiencing health problems," said King. "The students entering the workforce need to have a better understanding of this important population of people."

The objective of the simulation was to enhance the students' attitudes toward caring for elderly patients, enhance empathy for elderly patients, and improve general attitudes toward the elderly.The Aging Game - Restaurant

In doing this, King said she hopes this will "improve the quality of care and quality of life for the patients the students care for today and in the future."

"All of us think we can put ourselves in other shoes, but even with this activity it was hard to capture what it was really like to not function like we normally do," said Klindworth.

She said by participating in the Aging Game she hopes to be a little more understanding with her patients.

"That goes for all not just the elderly patients, but any of them that are having a difficulty with their care or life," said Klindworth.

This is the first time students from the BSHP program have participated in the Aging Game and it's a simulation King said she hopes will continue in the future and expanded to other programs.

"I think everyone working with patients should experience a day in their patients' shoes," she said "I encourage other programs to adopt the activity and I do plan to incorporate the experience earlier in the curriculum."

By: Karna Fronden, Digital Content Coordinator