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Age simulator allows young nurse to experience driving as a senior

Watch above: Nursing students experience life as senior citizens in a simulator suit by Ford. Wendy Winiewski tells us the purpose of the suit is two-fold it helps Ford adapt new vehicles for seniors and Monday it gave future nurses a better idea when to recommend a driver evaluation course.

SASKATOON – It’s called the “Third Age” simulator, taking participants into the third stage of life with the help of technology. Attached by Velcro, foot weights slow movement, knee braces limit flexibility, a motorized glove mimics hand tremors and the neck brace limits head rotation. Goggles are also included simulating deteriorated eyesight and headphones impact hearing ability.

“It definitely puts me in their shoes,” said fourth-year Saskatchewan Polytechnic nursing student Regan Suchan, after walking around in the suit.

The demonstration took place at Luther Heights Senior’s Complex on Monday morning. After wearing the age simulation suit, Suchan, in her 20’s, knows what it feels like to be up to 40 years older.

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“Everything is kind of a bit slower and just, I have a better understanding of what it’s like for them to move around,” she said after getting out of an onsite SUV which was part of the demonstration.

The suit was designed by Ford Motor Company’s ergonomics department.

“There’s 50 to 60 employees within the department that use this suit to make sure they’re designing the vehicle and helping design the vehicle to be comfortable for 95 to 97 per cent of drivers,” explained Jared Bond, Ford sales manager.

Because of the suit, vehicle temperature and audio button size has been increased, text is larger, and there’s blind spot monitoring which eliminates the need to shoulder check, a major difficulty for seniors according to Ruth Redden.

“When it comes to parking I look for a spot where I can drive out rather than back out,” admitted Redden, a 74-year-old woman who lives at Luther Heights and continues to drive. Redden has a clean record and drives a standard car, just as she has since she got her license decades ago.

Don Taman is hopeful vehicle seats will rotate in the future.

“I walk with a cane,” explained Taman. “I have a problem with my right leg. I have a problem getting into the car and getting out of the car.”

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Once in the vehicle though, Taman said his driving is comparable to any other motorists’ abilities.

In Saskatchewan, health care professionals, family members, or Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) can refer seniors to a driver evaluation course. SGI’s medical review unit assesses the test and makes a determination on the driver’s medical fitness and skills necessary to operate a vehicle safely. Every case is treated individually and any action taken depends on the driver’s specific condition according to SGI.

Physicians, optometrists, nurse practitioners, and occupational therapists are legally required to report drivers experiencing conditions that make it dangerous for them to drive, as per section 283 of The Traffic Safety Act.

According to Taman, safe driving is not always determined by age.

“Seems to me the new generation, they’re just in such a hurry,” he said. “The number of lanes changes and no signals and even a stop sign, they just barely slow down and away they go.”

For nursing students at Monday’s demonstration, knowing what it feels like to be an elderly driver, will guide whether they should recommend reporting a senior to SGI. For seniors, Monday’s demonstration will continue helping vehicle manufacturers make changes to maximize comfort and, in effect, safety, keeping them safely behind the wheel, longer.

The “Third Age” suit has been used around the world by companies and organizations including architects who use it to help design senior friendly homes.

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