Ageing suit helps hospital staff understand experiences of elderly

AGE CONCERNS Sam Cooper takes a walk in the age simulation suit.
AGE CONCERNS Sam Cooper takes a walk in the age simulation suit.

Reporter Sam Cooper got a taste of the challenges facing elderly people when he tried on an age simulation suit.

Here he shares his experience and what he learned:

My back starts to ache and I stoop. I have to shuffle to walk and the pain in my back, legs and hands becomes excruciating.

I try to move, but it’s like giving someone a piggy back ride without being able to bend your knees.

I lose my sight and hearing and struggle to distinguish the footpath from the road.

For a 23-year-old these problems are unusual - but I’m not ill, I am at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield to try on an age simulation suit designed to help Mid Yorkshire Hospitals Trust staff understand the effects arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, visual impairment and deafness can have on elderly people.

The first thing that struck me before even putting on the suit, was its weight.

The suit, which includes a body jacket, knee brace, collar, goggles and ear muffs, weighs 20kg.

As I put on the different elements, I begin to stoop. Anita Ruckledge, senior sister and lead nurse in dementia at Pinderfields, offers me little sympathy when I say my back is starting to hurt.

Imagine having an arthritic spine and suffering that all day, every day,” she said.

The leg immobiliser runs up my right leg to simulate Parkinson’s. I have to shuffle to walk.

Anita puts a collar round my neck which prevents me from turning my head and then asks me to put on a pair of gloves linked to an electronic pack to imitate Parkinson’s.

“Can you feel that?” Anita says as she turns on the pack.

My hands start tingling immediately and it becomes very hard to grip the walking stick she has given me.

As we go outside I am also given my goggles which imitate visual impairment and a set of ear protectors to simulate deafness – this to me was the most frightening.

I cannot move without Anita’s help, not only because of the pain in my back, legs and hands, but after losing my sight and hearing, I struggle to distinguish the path from the road.

“We’re not quite finished,” Anita says, much to my disappointment.

I had been wearing the suit for around 30 minutes. My back was aching, my hands were tingling and I was desperate to remove the goggles and ear protectors.

Anita turned up the power pack linked to my gloves. My hands curled up and I couldn’t move them at all.

“People with Parkinson’s do feel that kind of pain and it does get that bad for them,” she said.

“Imagine being in that much pain and not being able to tell anyone because you have dementia.”

This was when the importance of the suit and the training really hit home.

Having worn the suit for only half an hour I can empathise much more with what many elderly people have to go through every day.