Aging suit
To gain a deeper understanding of what frail aging might feel like for older patients, students had the opportunity to wear a frail aging suit. (Photo: Courtesy of The Michener Institute)

For the first time in history, there are more older people in Ontario than younger, and that trend is forecast to continue.  

By 2034, the number of seniors - defined as those over 65 years of age - in the province will have doubled and the demand for healthcare among seniors is expected to increase dramatically. 

To equip future healthcare practitioners with the skills to meet this need, The Michener Institute of Education at UHN has now incorporated the Working with Seniors program into its curriculum so that all students enter their chosen career fields with basic competencies in supporting older patients within a healthcare setting. 

Working with Seniors is made up of two components: a series of online learning modules and a simulation day, which involves many volunteers taking on various roles to help facilitate discussions and simulation rotations for more than 285 students.  

On simulation day, the second and third year students participate in a panel discussion in which seniors share their healthcare system experiences, followed by a series of simulation workshops including interacting directly with seniors, observing and participating in scenarios and wearing an innovative frail aging suit. 

This year's simulation day panel stressed the importance of treating patients as  individuals rather than a condition, listening to and respecting a patient's feedback, being open and honest with your patient about their situation and remembering to maintain a sense of humour. 

"One of the most uncomfortable things is dealing with a professional who doesn't have a sense of humour," joked panelist David Wilkinson. 

The panel also discussed the importance of imparting hope and the impact this can have on patient outcomes.  

"Hope, I think, is the most important aspect of healthcare," said panel member Dave Redinger after sharing that a friend had passed away shortly after receiving a poor prognosis. 

"We know baby boomers are all moving into senior world. There are lots of perfectly functioning seniors, but there are some that are not and we have to be able to meet those needs, whatever they are, in day-to-day life," said Jane Mattson, Manager of Continuing Education. 

The program is designed to not only help students build knowledge and skills around working with older individuals, but also to help develop awareness of the biases that get in the way of providing care to this demographic. 

The simulation day proved to be an important reminder that while not every job involves direct interaction with patients, every member of the health care team plays a role in providing the best care possible. 

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