Nursing students use ‘aging game’ to empathize with older patients

Elizabeth Huang

An introductory nursing class seeks to teach students to understand what older patients are going through in order to provide the best care and ensure his or her health. By playing an “aging game,”  students are able to “experience” the health problems of the elderly.

Amy Holland, instructor in clinical nursing, teaches introduction into patient-centered nursing care, where students use this game. She said she wanted a way for students to understand patients who are different from them. 

“If your patient doesn’t look or act like you, it is very hard for you to see the world from their point of view,” Holland said. “I wanted to give students an opportunity to really experience what being an older adult might feel like.” 

The “aging game” is a roleplaying scenario, in which one student is the nurse and another student is the patient. Props are used to mimic the various diseases older patients have. Corn kernels were put in shoes to simulate rheumatoid arthritis, swim goggles with tape on the sides resembled cataracts and glaucoma, and a sling on a student’s dominant arm represented post stroke weakness.

Nursing sophomore Maris Briggs said the game allowed her to better grasp the difficulties older patients must overcome.

“Many sensual abilities are naturally lost as one gets older, and I feel that it is not understood unless one experiences the losses themselves,” Briggs said. “It was interesting to experience [hearing loss] myself when I had to wear ear plugs and attempt to carry on a conversation with the nurse. I hesitated to ask the nurse to repeat herself.”

Briggs said this hesitation can potentially be detrimental to the patient’s health.

“The patient hesitates to ask the health care professional to restate their sentence due to embarrassment of frustration,” Briggs said. “When this happens, the patient’s safety is compromised because they’re not fully educated on their health and medications.” 

Nursing sophomore Erika Soles said playing the game allowed her to step into the shoes of the older adults she typically works with and become more aware of how she serves them. 

“It is easy to take having good vision and walking without pain for granted, and I truly got a new perspective on how some people live,” Soles said. “I could take the goggles off my eyes and the corn kernels out of my shoes at the end of the activity, but for many, this is the reality of life on a day-to-day basis.”