While hunched over, Tommaso Romagnoli shouts, "I can't see a thing," to fellow first year medical student Sara Cocco, as he fits the darkened goggles into place on his nose. Tommaso's voice projects more loudly than intended because he is wearing ear plugs.
The two sport the goggles, ear plugs and colourful jumpsuits, called Aging Sensitivity suits, to simulate what it is like to live as an older adult with a chronic illness. The suits have buckles that make the wearer bend forward and velcro fasteners and ties at the elbow, wrist and knee joints that constrain movement.
Tommaso and Sara wore the suits at a Growing Older event for first year medical students at St. Joseph's Health Care London's (St. Joseph's) Parkwood Institute, where more than 130 medical students participated in activities to help them understand what it's like for elderly patients as they navigate everyday life.
"Most health care professionals don't know what it's like to live each day with an illness," says St. Joseph's Geriatrician Dr. Laura Diachun. "As physicians, we often come into the room, perform our consultation and examination and leave the room without seeing the patient move. We can miss a lot in our assessment if we don't see how the person manages the simple things, like walking 20 feet, getting up out of a chair, dressing and undressing for a physical exam. This information is critical, because when someone starts to lose the ability to do these basic activities, that means their independence is at risk. When we witness these challenges, we can help provide interventions and support to help the person live more independently and improve their quality of life."
The seminar is one example of St. Joseph's continued focus on delivering senior friendly care. The organization is holding similar training for staff and physicians through its Specialized Geriatric Services (SGS) program.