Empathy in Geriatric Patient Care

Careers in geriatrics and gerontology are on the rise:

  • 4 of the top 6 occupations with most projected job growth through 2024 deal with geriatric care
  • Health occupations and social assistance industries are expected to have the fastest employment growth and add the most jobs through 2024
  • 5 million job openings will be available in the healthcare and social assistance sector from 2012 to 2022
  • Healthcare and social assistance industry careers are projected to increase 29 percent through 2022, compared to an average of 11 percent for all industries

Realityworks has developed the Geriatric Simulator and Geriatric Sensory Impairment Kit for instructors to help students to develop empathy for the geriatric population. Both include curriculum, addressing age-related sensory challenges and patient care skills.

Will today’s students be prepared to care for our growing elderly population? What does empathy in geriatric patient care look like?

The following infographic explores these ideas and more, and is a great resource for keeping the importance of empathy and sensitivity at the front of students’ minds in the classroom.

For another great resource on this topic, check out this recent webinar: How to Teach Geriatric Sensitivity to Students.

Fostering Geriatric Sensitivity through Age Simulation

By Kati Stacy

Miranda Kessler, RN-BSN, is the Health Occupations Instructor at Nicholas County Career and Technical Center in West Virginia where she teaches 11th and 12th grade students. The program includes health science courses with the goal of the students obtaining their West Virginia State Nursing Assistant Certification at the end of the two-year program.

“We are in a very poor county with approximately 1000 students in grades 10-12,” said Kessler. “We have seven feeder schools from three counties. Our area is very poor and jobs are incredibly limited. Some students will leave to go to college, but statistics show that the majority of our students won’t leave. It is so important that we reach these students and teach them a skill that can be used to take care of themselves and their families.”

When looking for a product to begin teaching geriatric sensitivity, Kessler chose the RealCare™ Geriatric Simulator by Realityworks because she felt the included components were a great value for the money. Designed for secondary and post-secondary education programs, the Geriatric Simulator allows users to experience a variety of age-related physical challenges.

“When I told my principal about the simulator after seeing literature on it at a conference and he saw how excited I was to use and implement it into my program, he bought in immediately and ordered it for me with no hesitation,” she said. “When the simulator came, he was so excited about it, he was actually the first person to try it! He was amazed by how it changed his normal routine activities and made everything feel much
more physically demanding.”

Kessler thought her students could really get good use out of the Geriatric Simulator and learn from the experience of wearing it.

“I wanted to be able to teach my students to be more understanding and empathetic with the aging process once we made it into our clinical rotation at the local nursing home,” reflected Kessler. “I wanted them to understand why the residents moved so slowly and I wanted them to learn to be patient and kind while working with them.”

Students in Kessler’s class are introduced to the Geriatric Simulator during their unit on growth and development and the aging process. During note taking time, they dress in the suit, which includes a weight vest (adjustable, one-size-fits-most), ankle weights, wrist weights. elbow restraints, knee restraints, gloves and a cervical collar. They also wear the glasses to impair their vision while note taking to see how it inhibits them.

“Initially, the reaction is, “This can’t be that bad,” or they laugh and giggle while gettingdressed in the simulator,” said Kessler. “After wearing the suit for the recommended 20-30 minutes though, their feelings generally start to change.”

Kessler said she sees the students becoming tired and their actions becoming slower and more purposeful throughout that time.

“Many of the students say that they didn’t realize it would be so fatiguing,” she said. “I’ve never had a student complain after wearing the simulator though; I’ve always only had positive comments.”

“After wearing the suit,” Kessler continued, “I try to have a one-on-one conversation with each student and discuss the experience. How did you feel before and after? How did your body respond? How did your breathing change? What did you find most challenging? What did you do in an attempt to compensate for your deficits?”

Kessler currently has one Geriatric Simulator that her classes have been using since September, but she said if her enrollment continues to grow she may look into purchasing another if funding becomes available. She is also looking into adding Realityworks’ new Geriatric Sensory Impairment Kit to her program through a grant she is writing. The kit features wearable components which provide users with age-related sensory changes to help with understanding common aging changes including: hearing impairment, geriatric arthritis and geriatric tremor.

“It is so important to get these kids to understand the pains and aches that our elderly generation feel every day, so that they can provide better care for our aging population,” reflected Kessler. “Even more than the physical aspect of aging, the mental and emotional status must be considered. These students can learn so much from the generation that we are now caring for – they can gain valuable life experience if they just slow down and listen and most importantly, respect the geriatric population.”

3 Ways to Use a Geriatric Suit in Your Classroom

Research shows that age simulation suit experiences enable participants to empathize with life in old age. The more empathy health occupations workers have for their elderly patients, the better care they will provide.

As the elderly population grows and demand for health care professionals trained to work with this population increases, tools like age simulation suits will become more and more important for nursing and health care education programs. So how could you use a geriatric suit in your classroom?

We asked educators who use our RealCare™ Geriatric Simulator in nursing and health care programs to share the creative ways they’re using the suit. Read on to learn what they shared!

1. Group experience. When groups of students experience an geriatric suit together, conversations are enriched. Students are able to compare how they feel and engage with one another as they try to complete physical tasks, like tying their shoes or using a cell phone. This group dynamic leads to deeper discussion and better understanding of the impact the geriatric suit is having on everyone.

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2. Patient practice. Set up a hospital room or nursing home room right in your classroom. Have one student wear the geriatric suit and the other play the role of nurse or CNA. In this scenario, the role of the nurse is even more meaningful as they help the patient perform physical tasks like sitting down, standing up, walking and laying down – they’re beginning to understand the reality of working with elderly patients, from patience and communication to providing physical assistance. At the same time, the student wearing the simulator is experiencing the physical impacts of aging on the body. These are all key skills for working with the elderly.

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2. Stations. Create several “geriatric experience” stations in your classroom for students to move through. One station could feature the complete suit, another station could feature the visual impairment glasses, another could simulate hearing loss, and so on. The Geriatric Simulator curriculum even includes several research projects that students could focus on in yet another station. Encourage your class to take turns rotating through each station.

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Real-world experiences can aide in helping prepare today’s students for success in health care careers. With a little creativity, you can conduct engaging, memorable and effective experiences for your students that will help them succeed in the future!

Learn more

For more information on the RealCare Geriatric Simulator, we recommend these resources:

Announcing a New Program to Teach Geriatric Sensitivity: The RealCare™ Geriatric Simulator

By Denise Bodart, Realityworks RealCare Product Manager

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As the elderly population increases, demand for nurses and caregivers trained to work with geriatric patients will grow – and so will the need for 21st Century educational tools that help prepare today’s students for success in geriatric careers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that careers in geriatrics and gerontology will increase by 20 percent through 2020. Four of the top six occupations deal with geriatric care: personal care aids, registered nurses, home health aides and nursing assistants. We believe that for a successful career, these professionals will not only need academic knowledge and technical skills, but will need to be able to demonstrate geriatric sensitivity. Such a skill will help these professionals gain a more positive view of older adults and build empathy for older adults in their care, ultimately helping them become more effective caregivers.

One way to provide geriatric sensitivity training to today’s 21st Century students is by enabling them to personally experience age-related physical changes.

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Career & Technical Education (CTE) programs are already preparing students to be career-ready geriatric care workers through courses in nursing and health occupations, work-based learning experience such as lab facilities and clinical internships, student organizations like the Future Health Professionals and opportunities to earn Certified Nursing Assistant certifications. With the right educational tools, CTE professionals can engage students even further on topics related to aging, care for the elderly and the physical effects of aging on the body.

The RealCare™ Geriatric Simulator is a sensitivity suit that enables users to personally experience age-related physical changes. Combined with comprehensive curriculum, the Geriatric Simulator gives the wearer hands-on experience with the many real-life conditions that geriatric patients deal with on a daily basis. These conditions include:

  • Visual impairment
  • Restricted range of motion
  • Decreased mobility
  • Stooped posture
  • Loss of sensation in hands
  • Joint stiffness
  • Loss of strength
  • Fatigue
  • Change in body image
  • Decreased sense of balance
  • Confusion

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Compassion and understanding are key to providing care for geriatric patients. If you “walk in the shoes” of an older adult, you’re much more likely to provide appropriate care because you understand the challenges that daily tasks can present. By enabling students to personally experience age-related physical changes, students become more sensitive to what their patients are going through – and with increased sensitivity comes improved care.

This Geriatric Simulator and curriculum is designed for a multitude of programs, including Health Occupations pathways, CNA training and Family and Consumer Sciences pathways, including Human Development and Interpersonal Relationships courses. Its comprehensive curriculum includes geriatrics and gerontology career exploration, visual impairment, declining mobility due to aging, the impact of aging on bones and joints, hearing loss and more.

It is vital that educators utilize 21st Century technology that truly works for our future workforce. Realityworks’ RealCareer Geriatric Simulator was designed to help CTE professionals teach today’s students the skills they need to succeed in a growing field. Providing aging awareness training for future healthcare workers will ensure a career-ready workforce.

Additional resources: