What is it like to feel 70, 80, 90, and even 100 years old? Aging-related daily challenges can be simulated for teens and college students inexpensively and at home!

Tips for Sensitivity Training

  1. Tailor the experience to the age level of the learners.
  2. Training should be done in a structured and planned out process.
  3. Tone of the training session is critical and increasing important as the age range decreases. The training should always be done in a respectful manner being careful not to make fun of older adults, especially with high school aged students or younger.
  4. Prepare materials. Homemade props from inexpensive supplies are as effective as commercially available materials. Check your local dollar store for supplies, e.g., masking tape, popcorn kernels, garden gloves, cotton balls / ear plugs, Vaseline / toothpaste, sunglasses, etc.
  5. Students need experiential simulation. Allow students to walk around in their shoes or sneakers after putting smooth small stones or popcorn kernels in them to simulate arthritis in the feet of older adults.
  6. Collect old drug bottles and fill with small candies. Allow students to attempt to open medication bottles while wearing thin garden gloves, and then ask them to distribute the candies in weekly pillboxes.
  7. Bring in back supports. Allocate time to have students wear the braces while using a crutch or cane to walk around.
  8. Make a manual wheelchair available to the students to move around the room, school, or home.
  9. Provide students with access to a computer and copies of accessibility labs that include exercises (but not limited to) teaching the students how to increase font sizes, change appearance and speed of the mouse pointer, change screen colors, make web pages less cluttered and one column, and utilize voice input.
  10. Allow students to role playing with each other taking turns being the older adult while teaching computing technology. Strongly encourage them not to touch the mouse or keyboard for the “student” to learn experientially.
  11. Remind the students that it is okay to feel awkward or uncomfortable when first encountering an older adult or individuals with disabilities.
  12. Build in time for written and oral reflections including in-session discussion, blogging, and essays. Allow students to express their feelings as some may have touched upon a recent experience of someone close dying.
  13. Provide opportunities beyond the classroom activities and have students blog about their experiences. Encourage students to share information with friends and family in-person, as well as through telephone calls and social networking sites. Allow some students to borrow simulation glasses and ear plugs to try at home. Offer optional extra credit assignments as wetting an adult diaper with water and wearing it for day, then blog about the experience with their classmates.
  14. Within about a week after training, lessons learned need to be utilized within their context. For example, the students need to try out what they learned in a real-world situation involving older adults.

 Today's exercise was very interesting. It gave me a viewpoint that I had not thought much about before. Being an older person is not easy. Just trying to go through daily life's activities seemed quite a challenge. It was difficult to see as clearly and read as clearly. Also, it was difficult to open the bottles when taking medications. Walking was also tough. Overall, this exercise has definitely provided me with a good perspective when teaching the older adults computing lessons, and we must put ourselves in their shoes in order to make everything as rewarding as possible for them.

- Klejdi Ujkaj

 I began the class laughing and finding humor in all of the props and by the end of the day I felt as if I had tapped into the mind of my grandmother. She is 94 years old yet young at heart and being aware of all that she struggles with is very frustrating for her. Trying to hold onto and control the walker with little use of my right hand, blurred vision, and corn in my foot was very uncomfortable and yet it was only temporary. This exercise really made me appreciate the affects aging has on the mind.

- Jaclyn Kalmenson

I used to think old people just didn't know how to cope with the changes they were going through, but I was definitely wrong. I now understand how my own grandmother feels sometimes, and how helpless she must feel (I even took her for granted).

- Myshelle Robinson

The glasses made us see with limited vision and were very annoying, even leading me to get a headache. The other thing was the gloves, which made it very difficult to pick up small things and to hold things firmly. This exercise really gave me a glimpse into the lives of older adults.

- Josh Dansky

The popcorn kernels in the shoes and the taping of our fingers also opened my eyes to the difficulties that senior citizens face everyday. The whole experience in general was both exciting and depressing, because now we know what they go through, and know to be patient with whatever they need help with.

- Samuel Eaton