In addition to learning how to develop skills in qualitative data collection, the students were involved in an in-class simulation exercise to better understand the daily challenges and obstacles older adults face. Below is a breakdown of the objectives, some facts about age-related impairments, as well as the exercises and roles students participated in that aimed to simulate experiences associated with age-related impairments.
- To develop an appreciation for the effects age-related changes in sensory-motor function have on daily living activities
- To increase knowledge of the physical requirements for accomplishing tasks basic to community living
- To increase sensitivity to the feelings engendered when functional skills are impaired and independence is compromised
- To explore the accessibility of our environment (as both physical and social spaces)
Facts About Age-Related Impairments
A brief, yet factually informative overview of the age-related impairments for the five senses is provided below. For an excellent visual portrayal of these age-related impairments, check out Columbia University’s “Growing Old in Three Minutes” videos here.
Age-related changes in vision usually begin in midlife, then tend to stabilize until around age 70 or 80 when further visual changes occur. About 95% of individuals over 70 years of age develop cataracts or some other form of vision loss. Although older individuals can compensate environmentally for many of these changes by increasing illumination, reducing glare, using large, clear visual images, and using higher contrasts between foreground and background materials, they are more likely to experience problems with daily tasks.
Changes in acoustic acuity begin at midlife. They usually are very mild until individuals reach 60 or 70 years of age, when reduced ability to hear low intensity and high frequency sounds pose significant problems for over a third of older individuals. Presbycusis, or high-frequency loss, makes it difficult to distinguish consonants and understand verbal messages. “That’s the wrong way” may be interpreted as “That’s the long way.” To improve communication, raising your voice does not help. Instead, use a low-pitched voice and speak slowly. Rephrase your sentence if the hearing-impaired person does not understand you. Avoid background noise and make sure that your face is in clear view of the listener (to enable lip reading).
Smell and Taste
Many older people complain that food no longer tastes as good as it did when they were younger. This may have less to do with the food or the cook than with other sensory, age-related changes. The ability to derive pleasure from eating is mediated, to a large degree, by the sense of smell. Odour detection and appreciation diminish with age. Researchers found that 50% of those 65-80 years old showed evidence of impairment in odour identification (Doty & Snow, 1988). Reduced olfactory function puts older individuals at risk for succumbing to noxious substances in their environment such as leaking gas or spoiled food as well as poor nutrition. Taste sensation shows only minor changes in late adulthood. The ability to taste salt appears to be moderately diminished, while detection of sweet, sour, and bitter flavours remains relatively unimpaired. It is worth noting, however, that dental disease, poor oral hygiene, and some medicines can alter the ability to taste (Baum, 1985).
The ability to be mobile and to remain active depends upon the combined functions of the cardiovascular, respiratory, and musculoskeletal systems. Age-related changes in these three systems are well documented in literature; however, the inevitability of some of these changes is currently in question (Ellis, 1991). Major threats to mobility and other activities of daily living (ADLs) are caused by illnesses, such as arthritis, strokes, or pulmonary disease.
Students gathered into groups of three and assumed one of three roles in rotation: 1) the senior, 2) the caregiver, 3) the researcher. The caregiver was instructed not to help the senior unless asked or unsafe, and assisted the researcher. The researcher observed, wrote field notes, and recorded the experience using photographs and video recordings. A gallery of these photos is viewable below.
› Put a small handful of chickpeas into your shoes, then walk VERY SLOWLY with a cane or walker (the caregiver should remind the person to keep a slow pace):
- Without using the stairs, go down to the Guernsey Market, walk through the market to see what’s on the menu for today, and return to the classroom (try it with ear plugs or glasses too), or
- Put on some gloves, then go to the Tim Hortons, buy a coffee, and return it to the classroom.
› Get in the wheelchair and roll your way out of the room, head to the information desk in the lobby of the Tower. Ask the person there where you can find an accessible bathroom. Go on in – turn around and come out. Return to the classroom.
› Wearing the glasses – go down the hall to the library, use the computer and research the book “Resilience in Aging.” Record details – call #, year, author, publisher, and also the title and authors for chapter 18. Return to the classroom (also try it with gloves and tape).
› Wearing earplugs – go down to the lobby and call a friend or family member and explain to them what you are doing and why, return to the classroom (try it with gloves too).
› Put the straw in your mouth and breath only through the straw – walk up the stairs of the tower to the 4th floor and come back down, return to the classroom
(try it with glasses too).
› Wearing gloves (tape fingers) – remove your shoes (untie them), put them back on and tie them up; put on your jacket, do up the zipper then remove them.
› Wearing the glasses (reading) and gloves – go out into the hallway and find a copy of The Brock Press. Look through it to find out how the Brock women’s basketball team is doing. Circle where they are in the standings. Return with it to the classroom.
After completing the age-related impairment simulation activities, the entire class participated in a meaningful discussion about their individual experiences with the simulation exercise. Each student was asked to reflect upon a number of questions, including:
- What happened while you were out there?
- Did you experience any difficulties?
- Describe your feelings about this experience.
- What changes did you observe? – about yourself? – about other participants? – about other people responding to you?
- Does the experience stimulate thoughts about the reactions and behaviours of older individuals who have some form of impairment?
- Does the experience suggest changes in your feelings or behaviour towards aged individuals?
“The physical actions that we had to take to complete what we deem as simple tasks were often exhausting and difficult.” – Student
“Acceptance in life ultimately protects our coronaries and makes us better individuals.” – Student
“I wondered if they stared at us because of the situation I was in or because they thought I required the assistance of the walker?” – Student
“With all the restrictions we have in life, I think that one of the most important things I learned in lecture today is that place matters! Place is so many different things that includes one very significant component and that is the subjective sense of place. How someone feels about the location around is a very critical component that can change the overall wellbeing of residents in even the most privileged of neighbo[u]rhoods.” – Student
To view more student reflections about the project as a whole, click here.