School of Nursing - Make a Gift

Archived News

Incorporating Dignity for the Aging into Health Care: Game helps student nurses understand how to care for older patients

Posted: April 15, 2016

Lorraine Walker, PhD, director of the St. David’s–CHPR

Students participate in the Aging Game exercise

Dean Alexa Stuifbergen and keynote speaker Sam Shore

Taking turns as a nurse and an older patient

Lynn Rew, PhD, professor at the UT Austin School of Nursing  and Michael O’Hara, PhD, professor of psychology at the  University of Iowa

Swimming goggles taped to simulate visual impairments

Lynn Rew, PhD, professor at the UT Austin School of Nursing  and Michael O’Hara, PhD, professor of psychology at the  University of Iowa

Role playing helps student nurses better understand
older patients's issues

You’ve heard it before: The population is aging, and the United States needs more health care professionals to care for the needs of a changing demographic. The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing is well aware of this growing need, but how exactly can faculty help their young charges better understand the many and varied issues older people experience?

This was the question confronting Amy Holland, RN, MSN, and instructor of clinical nursing at the UT Austin School of Nursing. Aware of the importance of providing an experiential learning activity to beginning nursing students so they can appreciate what life is like for an older adult with functional limitations, the question was how to make that happen.

“Gaining this insight is hard because, as human beings, we tend to project our own feelings and thoughts onto our patients,” Holland said. “If your patients don’t look or act like you, it’s hard for you to see the world from their point of view.”

To address this, Holland arranged to have her students participate in the “Aging Game,” a role-playing exercise designed to acquaint students with many of the problems they are likely to encounter once they graduate and begin their practice. In a recent Introduction to Patient-Centered Nursing Care course, second semester sophomores received a variety of props, such as swimming goggles taped in a way to simulate visual impairments such as cataracts and macular degeneration, earplugs for hearing loss, and corn kernels in shoes for rheumatoid arthritis in the feet. Students took turns playing the nurse and an older patient.

During debriefing sessions afterwards, Holland asked students what they discovered, both as the patient and as the nurse. One student, describing how she felt as the patient, said, “I was a little embarrassed to have these limitations. Because of my ‘hearing loss,’ I felt dumb because I couldn’t understand what my nurse was asking me to do.”

Other comments included: “As a patient, I realized that if you have a chronic illness, it takes twice as long to do things.” “I was frightened because my decreased vision meant I couldn’t see where my nurse was.”

As the nurse, many brought up the importance of not talking down to patients or trying to oversimplify instructions. “Nurses need to give ample time to do a task without taking over.” “I understand now why I need to have more patience with my functionally impaired older adult patients.” “I need to do a better job of communicating with patients who can’t see or hear well.”

The Aging Game simulation activity was designed to improve the attitudes of health care students toward older adults as well as yield positive results in the students’ levels of anxiety about and attitudes toward aging. For students at UT Austin School of Nursing, it looks like it’s working.

“To provide patient-centered, quality care for older people, it’s imperative that nurses see things from the patient’s viewpoint,” Holland said. “Hopefully, after participating in the Aging Game exercise, students have cultivated a more respectful and empathetic approach that will ultimately improve patient outcomes.”

Related Article

Bookmark and Share