Experiencing Old Age First Hand

October 01, 2012

At just 53 years old, Colleen Wyllie, R.N., knows the pain of stiff joints and the frustration of cataracts that cloud her vision.

Well, kind of.

As a clinical educator at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center San Pedro, Wyllie is among the nurses on staff who have donned an “old-age” simulation suit to understand first-hand the physical limitations of elderly patients. “My energy was zapped after wearing the suit for 15 minutes,” she says.

The suit uses weights and bands to force wearers into a stooped posture. Elbows and knees don’t bend easily, creating difficulty reaching for things. Goggles limit peripheral vision and simulate cataract development while earplugs reduce hearing capability.

“Putting the suit on helps our nurses experience the difficulties that many elderly patients experience,” Wyllie says, adding that the device can also be used for caregiver training at the Center for Optimal Aging at Providence Little Company of Mary San Pedro. “If nurses and caregivers are aware of the anxiety associated with decreased hearing and vision, fear of falling, and impaired walking, climbing or bending, they will develop empathy. It’s one thing to create a safe environment for our older population. It’s another thing to understand why we’re doing it.”