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Ageing Empathy Exercise, Updated Aug 6th

Encouraging people to undertake simple exercises to help them empathise with the elderly and prepare for their own future.

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I was very interested to read about a simulation program called Xtreme Aging, created by the Macklin Intergenerational Institute, to raise awareness about the needs of the elderly amongst professional carers.

Having tried the exercises myself, I realise how beneficial they were in heightening sensitivity to the needs of others, but also acting as a catalyst to prepare for my own old age.

The equipment required is fairly minimal:
- wear glasses with scuffed-up lenses to reduce visibility
- stuff cotton balls in your ears to reduce your hearing
- stuff cotton balls in your nose to dampen your sense of smell
- put on latex gloves and wrap rubber bands around your knuckles to impede manual dexterity
- put corn in your shoes to approximate the aches that come from losing fatty tissue

Then undertake seemingly simple activities:
buttoning a shirt
- dialling your phone
- folding and unfolding amap
- opening a bottle of pills
- handling coins from a wallet
(Just imagine you are doing this in the pressure of a busy supermarket queue for example)

UPDATE- 2nd August: New features of the Ageing Empathy Toolkit inspired by input from the OpenIDEO community:

- The toolkit could include a capture sheet where participants log their experience.
These could be shared publicly and also updated by participants subsequently to reflect on how the exercise went on to impact their lives and decision making or affected their relationship with others. (Thanks to NathanMaton for this inspiration) 

AgeingBooth, or some other app that ages facial features could be used to reinforce the physical changes (this could also be used as a viral promotion campaign for the toolkit, given people’s passion for sharing these images on social media)

The instructors for these exercises should certainly be senior citizens themselves because they are the best coaches and it would be a new employment opportunity for those who have experienced age discrimination in the workforce.

There could be video testimonials from people of advanced age sharing some of the pleasures and challenges of ageing
(thanks to Carole for directing me to the Dialogues with Time exhibition)

I would love to integrate Nick’s
Life App concept to prompt participants with provocative questions such as theirLife Goals or End of Life Wishes. I’d like to invite Nick to join a virtual team, so we can consider how these concepts could be combined. Watch this space!

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UPDATE- 6th August: Prototype Development

I am beginning to put some thought to packaging the kit in different ways for different audiences. 
With the help of the community, I have identified four applications where these empathy exercises could be particularly valuable and have two new opportunities to test the concept live in the field…

“What if exercises like this were part of medical training? If every medical student experienced what it was like to be in a hospital bed, wearing blurry goggles and ear plugs, might they approach the experience of providing care differently?” - NDawson

Thanks for your encouragement Nick. I would love to partner on this. Perhaps I could send you a couple of toolkits to use at the hospital workshops that you have coming up.
I could include all the necessary contents and some activity prompts that are specific to the hospital experience (e.g. registration, rounding, discharge). It would be great to get your builds from the beta testing. I’ll email you now to discuss this further.

“It could be even good for families of aging individual's. Requiring an annual repeat of the training would be helpful for caregivers too. I happily took care of my pap when he got older. Most days it is easy to put things in context and to remain patient and respectful, but there are days when you are cleaning up things that make you gag or days when they are trying to strangle you because they think you are poisoning them when an empathy refresher comes in handy.” - Lena Dickinson

Thanks to 
Karoline K we have the opportunity to get a toolkit for carers into the hands of people who work as temp carers for ‘Hjemmeplejen’, part ofDenmark’s Social Services, through which thousands of people receive care in their homes each day. Her mother is a manager for these services and Karoline had a summer job“making daily visits to different elderly and people with disabilities, helping them with things like showering, getting dressed, heating food, sorting out medication, cleaning and sometimes just a chat”
Karoline is also going to be lending me a hand with the design of these packs.

It would be fantastic if the empathy toolkit could be included in T. Annie Nguyen’s Caregivers Wellness Toolkit.

+ + +

Stay tuned to see how these first two versions of the toolkit develop.
Once we’ve learned from these two use-cases, there are some other applications that it would be interesting to produce as well…

For Baby Boomers making plans for their own old age, a combination of the empathy exercises and NDawson’s Life App could help them confront difficult questions like their end of life wishes. 
Personally, I prefer the low-fi solution of presenting Nick’s questions on a deck of cards as opposed to an App.

“I think your idea will have the same lastingeffect on the participants, and you could even expand it to children …. As longas you speak to them in the right language. … Maybe every year there could be aday when students break open the aging kit and experience their day as if theywere octogenarians” - Diana Klochkova

STUDENT & SENIOR VOLUNTEERS - This is specifically focused at Christian Burke’s shortlisted concept
The empathy toolkit could be a good way of ensuring these volunteers get the right training and can develop the appropriate interpersonal skills in their interactions with the elderly. 

How might your idea scale and spread to reach as many people as possible?

My suggestion would be that employers could arrange sessions for their staff where they undertake these exercises over a lunch hour. As Annie Lin suggests, this would also be a powerful activity in school/university curricula

How might your idea attract and involve partners from health care, business, government, nonprofit or other sectors?

I can think of few other prompts to encourage people to plan for their own future and start putting money aside that would be more emotive than this, so any employer could benefit. In the UK, for example, this could be done to coincide with the annual percentage increase in the employee contributions to NEST (National Employment Savings Trust).

How might you design an early experiment or prototype to further develop your idea?

We tested these exercises in IDEO’s London studio (see image). You do need to actively encourage people to take part, so hosting an event at a fixed time would help to prompt them.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Gretchen Addi

While I love the Aging Empathy Exercise, I would want it to have a shift in tone and goal. For me it points to the "decline perspective" on aging that we need to turn around, while remaining real. I would love it more if it used the empathy to inspire healthier behaviors as a young person (or any age) so that many of these things can be avoided. It is less about getting old and more about this is what happens when you get diabetes or smoke, etc. along with some obvious realities that one can experience with age that you need to learn to adapt to. Many older people never experience these or only one or two and it can be genetic tendencies but more importantly it is about leading a healthy life all of your life.

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our group was talking about this too, how to make it lead to better behaviors and being able to adapt (also looking at good things that come with age and how to enjoy/maximize these)

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