Feb 08, 2019

Empathy Suits: Training Aged Care Workers By Simulating Elderly Physical Issues

The key to caring for another person has always come down to understanding.

Being able to truly grasp the nature of the issues that a person is facing, gives a carer the type of insight required to be able to meet their needs for happiness.

Unfortunately, a high percentage of aged care residents can be dealing with one, or multiple physical ailments, and the ramifications from these issues play a massive part in their overall quality of life.

While sympathising with someone’s issues is one thing, being able to truly understand and empathise with them is another.

And one aged care provider is looking to give their staff the best possible understanding of the issues that their residents may face.

The Australian not-for-profit organisation, ACH Group, is set to become the first aged care provider in Australia to trial the use of ‘empathy suits’ as part of an innovative staff training pilot program.

ACH Group has purchased three of the Premature Ageing Unisex Leisure (PAUL) suits, that were developed by the University of Sydney’s Department of Rural Health.

University of Sydney Health Education Officer, Paul Bennett, who kick-started the pilot in Adelaide this week, shared his thoughts on both reasoning and the benefits of the empathy suits.

“An ageing population worldwide makes it increasingly important that health students understand issues that older people face and can provide empathetic care to them,” he said.

“Many young people who begin their study have had no experience with people who are living with a disability or have complex health needs and these suits give them a unique insight into not only the physical changes but how it feels to be looked at differently.”

“As far as I am aware ACH Group is the first major aged care provider to introduce empathy suits to this extent as part of its formal staff training. As far as others choosing to take this up, it is a matter for them.”

From my viewpoint, we value our staff and are investing in training to boost their skill set, which includes an empathic understanding of the needs of our customers. I see many benefits that will result in better health outcomes for customers.”

The suits are fitted with arm and wrist strapping that restricts the wearer’s movement, and weights that contribute to a hunched posture and help to create the type of fatigue that the elderly can experience.

There is also a leg splint that reduces the range of motion for one side of the body, and attachments that can impair the wearers vision, hearing, and their sense of touch.

ACH Group General Manager of People and Culture, Nichole Tierney, believes that the benefits of the increased understanding being provided by these suits, align with the philosophies that ACH Group base their care upon.

“This is about training our staff to appreciate what it feels like, by putting them in the shoes of an older person or a person with disabilities. It’s about enabling them able to use a strengths-based approach when they are supporting a person to live well regardless of their health challenges.

“It’s not about building pity for a person, but empathy, because you experience those challenges for yourself. We look forward to working with the University of Sydney to develop an innovative training model

to be launched later this year,” she said.

The trial involving the empathy suits will be rolled out this year in conjunction with the University of Sydney and will involve staff having to wear these suits while carrying out daily living activities. The suits will allow staff to experience a range of different conditions and impairments that many elderly people live with on a daily basis.

It is expected that the suits will be introduced as part of Level Three training requirements for ACH Group and will be used to train up to 800 entry-level carers.


Photo courtesy of ACH Group

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  1. The mention above of ACH Group being an “AUSTRALIAN NOT FOR PROFIT” Organisation really got my attention. Having lost my father who suffered from Dementia in July 2018, i had come to the conclusion, after 4 years of living and dealing with Nursing Home care, that a lot of these facilities are so profit driven that a ‘not for profit model’ should be the preferable way, the Majority of care centres and facilities in Australia, should be run. Is this currently being explored? Is the Australian Government open to legislating such a move. i would like to hear more about this if it is possible. i do believe that if more money was being put back into age care centres to benefit the residents instead of looking at their profitable bottom line or shareholders profits, then the quality of life, care, support and food (just to name a few) would dramatically improve. The fact a care centre can try and feed a resident for $4.60 (a figure i have heard quoted) a day, is appalling. Our elders, and ourselves in advancing years deserve more than this. This sector should never be driven by ‘big business’, its about people, respect and quality of life. thanks. Anne Cukeric


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