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Experiencing a much older view

Local disaster response volunteers learn what it’s like to age and live with physical impairments

Posted: November 4, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 4, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Rameena Rahman experiences some of the effects of aging during a SCAN Health Plan Trading Ages workshop for American Red Cross disaster relief volunteers. Courtesy photo.

 

Rameena Rahman just got older ... a lot older. 

While she was born in 1981, she has experienced what it feels like to have been born many decades earlier. Hearing loss, vision changes and physical limitations have given the Canyon Country resident a firsthand understanding of some of the challenges older adults face. 

“It wasn’t until I was wearing thick gloves to simulate stiff joints and had my right arm tied behind my back as if I had lost the use of it during a stroke (that) I realize how difficult it can be for older adults to do ordinary tasks like filling out paperwork,” said Rahman, a member of the Red Cross California Safe Corps.

Joined by a dozen local disaster response volunteers for the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region, Rahman had the opportunity to peer into the life, concerns and perspectives of older adults during a “Trading Ages” senior sensitivity workshop presented by SCAN Health Plan.

Through interactive tools and hands-on involvement, Trading Ages allows participants to experience firsthand a series of age-related conditions such as hearing loss, vision changes and loss of dexterity.

The training, held at the Red Cross office in Santa Clarita, helps participants understand how challenges associated with aging can affect everyday activities, behaviors and actions. 

The number of Americans over age 65 is growing rapidly. By 2030, there will be about 72.1 million people in that age category — more than double the number in the year 2000.

As this population increases, anyone who serves older Americans must consider ways to adapt to the unique needs of this age group.

“Raising awareness often translates immediately into increased compassion, patience and ultimately better service,” said Jacqueline Lauder, a gerontologist with Long Beach-based SCAN Health Plan and the Trading Ages facilitator. 

“By giving this group of Red Cross volunteers an opportunity to ‘walk in the shoes’ of a senior, we can foster an awareness that will lead to better interactions with older individuals.”

During the workshop, participants wore earplugs to experience the feeling of being hearing impaired, glasses that distorted their vision as certain visual changes associated with aging would, and gloves that made it difficult to open packages and pick up small items.

Additionally, some of the volunteers lost the use of one arm to simulate the effects of astroke, while others wore a bandage that limited the use of one leg to show how arthritis can impair movement. 

With their “disabilities,” participants were asked to carry out several activities, including opening and enjoying a bag of chips, which proved to be more challenging than any of them had expected.

“Disasters can affect anyone regardless of age, but seniors can be a particularly vulnerable population,” said Louise Goudchaux, Canyon Country resident and Santa Clarita disaster services vice chairwoman for the American Red Cross. 

“SCAN’s Trading Ages program is a great teaching tool that will help all of us be more sensitive to seniors’ age-related needs.”

SCAN Health Plan is a not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plan that has been focusing on the unique needs of seniors for the past 35 years.

Its award-winning Trading Ages program was initially created as a way for SCAN employees to better understand the needs and mindset of its health plan members.

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