FOR most people the thought of reaching an elderly age is a daunting prospect.

But with our health service facing increased pressures as people live longer there’s no doubt more needs to be done to cope with the challenges we’ll face in years to come.

So an Oxford care home has paired up with Oxford Brookes University to give people an insight into how individuals may feel after reaching retirement age.

The partnership with Vale House Care Home in Sandford Road, which specialises in dementia care, aims to give staff the experience of the sort of things elderly people have issues with and suggest how best to help them.

It uses dementia simulation training, which has recently been introduced at the care home, and includes experience in a body suit reflecting mobility challenges the elderly can face.

The training also uses a professional actor to work with staff to replicate some scenarios that can arise with dementia sufferers.

Vale House head of home and nurse Tricia O’Leary, 63, has been working in nursing since she was 18 and recently took part in the dementia simulation training.

She said: “It has been the greatest eye opener I have ever had, even just experiencing getting old and struggling, regardless of if you had dementia or not.

“The goggles highlight that many older people have sight problems and they might also have dementia and not understand the world around them. It is a great lesson to me as a nurse about the people we look after.

“The actor was really good as well. Often you have to learn on the job and everyone with dementia is different.

“For example, if they did not want to get out of bed in the morning they tasked us with different scenarios to understand how we can handle these sort of situations.”

A team at Oxford Brookes created the training suit to replicate the common scenarios that dementia patients may also suffer from.

The suit includes goggles which replicated loss of peripheral vision and changes to visual function due to cataracts, a back brace to experience a stooped posture, elbow and knee braces to restrict joint movements, wrist and ankle weights to simulate muscle weakness, gloves and finger restrictors to reduce sense of touch and ability to grasp, and ear plugs to experience age-related hearing loss.

While wearing the suit, care workers are tasked with daily activities that can be taken for granted but pose challenges for older people, such as making a cup of tea and walking up or down steps.

Oxford Brookes senior lecturer in occupational therapy Rozz McDonald said: “It is designed to help people understand experiences of people with dementia and to look at making the environment dementia friendly.

“It helps people think about situations, such as tapping someone without any warning. Because the person’s vision is slightly impaired and they cannot easily see what is going on, this could frighten them or make them anxious.”

The partnership hopes all staff at Vale House will take part in the dementia simulation training and will host study days starting in November.


“It is surprising how tired I was after just 20 minutes stepping into the body of an elderly person.

“The whole experience was strange but very insightful and really gave me an idea of how many simple challenges our older generation can face daily.

“Things such as limited mobility – making steps a much harder task – or even sitting in a chair that is slightly too low.

“The small tasks that we take for granted in everyday life became a chore and after a while exhausting.

“This is before adding a mental disorder such as dementia into the mix.

“It was eye-opening to experience limited mobility and vision, but to relate that further to people that suffer dementia was thought-provoking to say the least.”