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Age is no barrier to learning new skills, thanks to high-tech simulation suit

06 Oct 2020 17:07:13
ageing simulation suit

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to age 40 years in a matter of minutes? NHS and care homes staff can now find out thanks to a high tech simulation suit funded by the Rotherham Hospital and Community Charity

The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust’s Care Homes Team will be using the ageing simulation suit to bring their falls training to life for Trust colleagues and staff who work in care homes in Rotherham.

The suit, worth £1,625, includes:

- A vest full of weights to restrict movement and cause slouching 
- A neck brace to reduce head mobility 
- Tinted goggles to blur eyesight and reduce the visual field
- Ear defenders to block out sound and to show the impact of hearing impairments
- Elbow and knee wraps, wrist and ankle weights to simulate joint stiffness and pain
- Oversized, weighted shoes to cause imbalance
- Gloves to reduce sensation and grip
- An adjustable rib bandage and nose clip to simulate the effects of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – a severe lung disease.

Karen South, Therapy Team Lead for the Care Homes Team, said: “The ageing simulation suit is such a valuable asset to our team because it really brings to life the training we deliver to our own colleagues and to those who work in the care homes. It’s literally like stepping into an older persons’ shoes where stiff, heavy joints, a lack of coordination and strength, hearing and eyesight loss are an everyday reality.

“The feedback we have already received is that it gives people a greater understanding and empathy for the frail residents and the patients they care for, particularly those who are at risk of falling or who have multiple age-related conditions. 

“Staff have said it helps them to develop their communication and handling skills with older people because they have now experienced what it’s like to struggle with basic tasks like getting out of a chair, hearing a conversation clearly or dealing with a lack of coordination and balance.

“Wearing the suit, even for a short period of time, is a real eye-opening experience which thanks to the charity’s funding we can share with more professionals caring for our older generation in Rotherham.”

Sarah Frier, Administrator at the Jubilee Care Home in Greasbrough, was the first care home employee to trial the suit. The 37-year-old, also from Greasbrough, has worked at the care home for seven months. 

She says trying on the suit has given her a greater understanding of the age related ailments the care home residents and older relatives have to deal with and what everyday life is like for them.

“As the leg and knee weights went on and the heavy vest was added it immediately felt restrictive. Lifting my legs up was a real struggle. My vision through the goggles was massively blurred due to the yellow tint. I felt incredibly off balance when trying to walk around and after a few minutes I was definitely hot, tired and ready to sit down,” she said.

“Getting back up out of the chair was just as much of a challenge. My feet felt like they had swollen to twice their size. The COPD simulator was a struggle to wear too as it restricted my breathing and my chest felt tight. 

“It was physically draining but an incredible sensation to wear the suit. It’s been a real insight into what it’s like to deal with age-related health conditions. My mum is in her 70s now and is unsteady on her feet like some of the residents here too, so I now have a greater appreciation of how unsettling and scary that is. 

“It’s an eye opener that we shouldn’t take our youth and good health for granted and that we should all support older people around us.”

Care homes in Rotherham can request training sessions and loan the ageing simulation suit from the Care Homes Team at The Rotherham NHS Foundation Trust with a £25 donation requested to boost the Rotherham Hospital and Community Charity. 

Due to Covid-19 and infection control guidance, the training programme has been adjusted so that staff in each group can try out an individual component of the suit, rather than the full kit.

For more information and to book please contact Karen South on rotherham.carehomesteam@nhs.net.

Martin Havenhand, Chairman at the Trust, added: “We are always looking for new and innovative ways to invest the funds you generously raise for the charity and the ageing simulation suit is a fantastic resource. Nobody wants to think about getting older and frailer but the suit provides a snapshot of what old age is like for many people. This will help our colleagues to empathise even more with the vulnerable people they care for and will enhance the support they provide. I have no doubt it will be a real success.” 

Photo caption: Sarah Frier, Administrator at the Jubilee Care Home in Greasbrough, Rotherham, trying out the ageing simulation suit funded by the Rotherham Hospital and Community Charity.