An aged care provider is taking part in a trial where staff wear empathy suits to help them better understand the needs and experiences of the residents they are caring for.
South Australian-based provider ACH Group has purchased three Premature Ageing Unisex Leisure Suits pilot, which the Department of Rural Health at the University of Sydney developed over 10 years for use in aged care settings.
The provider will use the suits in a training pilot rolling out this year in partnership with the University of Sydney that aims to help staff take an empathetic approach to care for residents.
Staff will wear a suit while carrying out daily living activities so they can experience conditions such as vision impairment, hearing loss, a hunched posture, reduced tactile sense and shortened gait.
The suit includes straps for arms and wrists to restrict movement, a leg splint to reduce the range of motion and weights to increase fatigue.
ACH Group general manager people and culture Nichole Tierney said the experience would allow staff to empathise with the residents.
“This is about training our staff to appreciate what it feels like, by putting them in the shoes of an older person or a person with disabilities.
“It’s about enabling them [to be] able to use a strengths-based approach when they are supporting a person to live well regardless of their health challenges,” Ms Tierney said.
“It’s not about building pity for a person, but empathy, because you experience those challenges for yourself.”
The training will be provided to ACH Group’s 800 care and support workers.
Lead researcher and University of Sydney health education officer Paul Bennett launched the pilot and outlined his research and potential benefits in Adelaide this month.
He said it was important for staff to understand the issues older people face.
“Many young people who begin their study have had no experience with people who are living with a disability or have complex health needs and these suits give them a unique insight into not only the physical changes but how it feels to be looked at differently,” Mr Bennett said.
He said ACH Group was the first major aged care provider to introduce empathy suits to this extent as part of its formal staff training.
Using the suits shows that a provider values its staff and is investing in training to boost staff’s skill set, which includes empathic understanding of the needs of clients, he said.
“I see many benefits that will result in better health outcomes for customers.”
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