With the ‘suit of old age’ you feel like this: “It feels heavy even to breathe”

The first few shoes in which I can no longer move my heels. Add five years. Then some knee pads, elbow pads and wrist guards to restrict the movement of my joints. Add another ten. The set includes a 15kg weight vest, a neck brace, isolation helmet and vision-obscuring goggles. Twenty more years. As a final touch, gloves that emit electric shocks to simulate Parkinson’s.

I suddenly changed from 24 to 80 years old, my agility was gone and it became difficult for me to get up from the chair. I can’t distinguish text from signs, and road noise doesn’t seem as annoying anymore. This is not because the hustle and bustle of the city has stopped, but because my hearing is not the same. My body is no longer the same as before, it has become old in just the one and a half minutes it took to equip me with the ‘armour’ of age.

The whole experience is part of a project by the ‘Social Observatory’ of the La Caixa Foundation, which aims to promote empathy between social and health professionals with older people. A work that has had the participation of a total of 84 professionals providing direct care to elderly people from residences in Asturias and Madrid.

guilty feeling

Gemma Postigo, a physiotherapist at the Reina Sofia Senior Residence in the Community of Madrid, was one of 35 professionals at the center who wore a suit that simulates aging, and did so “with the worst possible diagnosis.” “I wanted to fully experience the diseases and complications that my patients suffer from,” he explains.

The test they performed included a tour in which they had to climb stairs, reach an elevator, and try to press buttons; Performing mobility exercises, picking up objects from the floor, or getting out of bed. “All these daily activities,” says Postigo, “add up to a world where even breathing becomes difficult.” The extra 20 kilos of weight gain along with deafness and cataracts can lead to anxiety, panic and even That even guilt begins to be felt. «Every day we insist, we pressure, we hurry, but their body can no longer bear it. And we don’t realize it.

He also thought about some patients, especially those with whom he has better contact and who suffer from hemiplegia or osteoarthritis. “Suddenly you’ve got 35 years behind you,” he says. Although it’s true that aging is progressive, it helps to understand why we sometimes feel like our elders are more complicated than necessary. Become. And, of course, you start doing everyday things like eating food or sitting on the toilet in your suit and you realize that sometimes there’s no other way to do it, with the weight on, how bad you look. And make sound. ..It’s really very difficult,” he laments.

According to the research results, participants who experimented with the suit improved global empathy skills by 14.5%. Emotional aspects associated with empathy – such as putting yourself in another’s position, their circumstances or their thoughts – increased by 15%. Postigo argues that, in areas such as social and health care, “we should all be more aware of the difficulties of getting older, because your present is our future.” Doesn’t lie. If we look at the demographic projection, it does not stop growing. According to the Higher Center for Scientific Research (CSIC), octogenarians represent 6% of our population, and the number of people reaching the age of centenarians is expected to increase by 1,619 from 2021 to 2022, bringing the figure to almost 20,000 centenarians. Has reached. We live longer, and as we age, age-related diseases also increase.

simulate aging

The project began to be developed in 2019, after being selected as the best work of the La Caixa Foundation’s call for experimental research projects in the social sciences. Since that moment, and under the leadership of the Ministry of Social Rights and Welfare of the Principality of Asturias and researchers from the Rey Juan Carlos University of Madrid, work has been carried out “to simulate in the most faithful way the experience of being an elderly person”. ,

“The suit consists of nine pieces, from huge sandals that make you tap your feet every time you step into it, to a giant vest filled with sand,” explains Aitor Yusta, a member of the research team at the University of Madrid. “To make the experience as customizable as possible, it also has six pairs of glasses to simulate different eye pathologies such as cataracts, ocular effusion, glaucoma or macula degeneration.”

Their idea is to patent the Aging Suit – it costs about a thousand euros – and make it available to educational centers, so they can incorporate it into topics and training sessions. “In my time they trained you only academically, the feelings of the patients were not taken into account.” I know things are in the process of changing, but there are still many professionals of my time who are indifferent to the elderly,” says Postigo.

The study, for its part, defends that the use of empathy among health professionals improves clinical data and “has an impact on the physical, social and emotional well-being of the elderly.” Furthermore, they elaborated that with increased empathy comes reduced levels of anxiety, depression, hostility, “as well as increased satisfaction and improved self-concept of the elderly.”

lack of experience

Furthermore, with the study they want to reduce the “outrage” received by young health workers, who are “attacked” for showing less empathy towards elderly people. Physiotherapists explain that criticism of their behavior involves the argument that they are “malicious people”, but the reality is “lack of experience”: “Young people find it shocking to deal with patients with cognitive problems because they are not trained. “Understanding their feelings. He does not intend to justify his behaviour, but defends that with measures such as the ‘old age suit’, empathy will no longer be a pending issue.


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