Brian Richardson, Chief Marketing Officer, Sienna Senior Living

Recently, I had the opportunity to learn what it’s like to be a senior with physical, sensory and cognitive issues, and the experience was extremely eye-opening.

The Marketing and Communications Department from Sienna Senior Living has made a pledge to put ourselves in a resident’s shoes to better understand their unique needs. To help us do this, we visited Baycrest Health Sciences, a world leader in geriatric research, innovation and education. There, we were invited to try on special frail aging suits and participate in a demonstration that simulates—with remarkable realism—what it’s like to attend a medical appointment in a busy clinic or hospital when your mobility is restricted, your hearing and vision are reduced, and you may have some degree of memory loss.

And this was no ordinary demo.

Along with Communications Specialist Amanda Paterson, we were strapped into jumpsuits that have weights at the wrists and ankles, as well as straps to alter your posture. Bands were placed around our joints to restrict range of motion, and we were asked to wear ear plugs and goggles that greatly impaired our ability to see. The only aid we were given was a cane.

Baycrest’s Manager of Training & Simulation played the role of a busy healthcare worker tasked with getting us ready for a doctor’s exam. She hurried us down a hallway—as much as we could hurry given our impairments—and into a waiting room where we were asked to sign medical consent forms. Though neither of us knew what we were signing, given that we could not read the form without assistance, the healthcare worker insisted we needed to be quick as she was short-staffed and needed to get us ready for our exam. We did our best to comply, before being rushed into another room where we were each given instructions to prepare for the doctor. Sitting, standing, removing shoes, and putting on a gown seem like such simple tasks, but for someone with mobility issues, it’s not at all straightforward.

While we struggled to do as were told, she continued to issue new instructions, sometimes contradicting herself. We later learned this was part of the demonstration used to simulate confusion that many individuals with dementia experience.

The entire simulation lasted no more than seven minutes, but let me tell you, I was more than ready to stop. During our debrief session, we discussed the feelings we experienced during the experiment. We both said we felt vulnerable. Anxious. Confused. And frustrated—both at the healthcare worker and at ourselves for our loss of control.

Through fulfilling our Change Day Ontario pledge, we agreed we had increased empathy for residents and the challenges they may face. And we are committed to rethinking the way we communicate with them, and the way we help define the Sienna Experience.