• Tanguy Vanderlinden

Increasing empathy towards our elderly

Updated: Apr 8, 2019

Various ways exist to increase empathy towards our elderly, with one way being literally in old people’s shoes. That’s where dedicated suits or simulations come along, ranging from 1000+€ and being occasionally proposed as training to healthcare staff or designers to behave or create adequately. Some were thoroughly designed, some others seem to have been conceived in a garage. Well, if it does the job, the rest is literature.


Below a few videos presenting those suits - a penny for your thought or curiosity (with of course a more technical "back-to-the-future" version with a #VR headset):

  • Age simulation suit shows healthcare professionals what it's like being old (looks like handmade, but seems to be good enough, and the video is great)

  • Ford's high-tech old-age suit - feel like you're 70 years old! (this company having as well created pregnancy suits, trying to make his employees more user-centric)

  • Aging Simulation Suit - What It Feels Like To Grow Old (where in addition you look like Astro boy)

  • Walking in the Genworth R70i Aging Experience (welcome to the funfair with flashy led lights everywhere)

Now, let’s reconsider the initial question on how to increase empathy towards our elderly, and focus more on the "empathy" concept. Are there any downsides concerning empathy? Is the lack of empathy the source of inhumanity scandals we sometimes hear about in those senior residencies ? What if we consider empathy as a ressource ?


This latter question might be surprising, but if you consider empathy as a resource, an effort, it might fast deplete – especially in human services professions (especially when ideal driven & when the pay is bad) where compassion fatigue could lead to leave their jobs. In this article, Adam Waytz explains as well the ethics erosion effect between members of a group who are closely bound together (through empathy 😊) and who behave badly (empathy between fellow employees can inhibit whistle-blowing). Inspiring article concluding that being on one’s shoes – even if well-intentioned, could be misleading because usually under-/over-estimating. The best / less biased being to get direct feedback from the target under study. This kind of regular feedback would be already great, especially from this "silent & fragile" population - this population who (wrongly) do not have their say anymore, because "daily" losing a bit more autonomy.


I would hijack this article though with a target shift from an empathy point of view; what about the few healthcare professionals active in these senior ("medical") residencies where you could get up to 80% of patients with dementia ?


These people are indeed on the front-line and need support. Many reports (in Europe, the US) describe the same issues : huge turnover of healthcare professionals dedicated to this ageing population. This task is very human labour intensive and very costly (pension in France is on average not enough to pay for the monthly rent in a specialized residence). Furthermore, the profession is badly rewarded (bad pay) with a lack of staff, under pressure with steady growing tasks. Growing because our European population is getting older & older by the decades to come, and the job is not appealing. It would be great if key decision makers put themselves for a week or two on their shoes : no specific outfit needed, just being able to work long hours for a pay allowing you to live 2 hours commuting away from the city.


At Ubiz, besides the usual focus on older patients, we are looking to support as well technology startups focusing offers on this staff, helping them into their tasks, providing them with enough empathetic energy for their personal balance & unburden their workload. Treating our elders with humanity and respect, that's what we want.

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