THIBODAUX, La. (AP) - A tightly strapped vest restricts breathing. A weighted jumpsuit unbalances the wearer while pinching joints. Goggles blur vision.
Getting old can feel like this, nursing students tell people who regularly work with patients who are at least 65.
The Nicholls State University nursing faculty developed "Take a Walk in My Shoes," which takes volunteer nursing students into the community at large, to teach caregivers and others how to help and relate to elderly patients.
The tight vest and the bright yellow jumpsuit teaches the wearers about some of the problems their patients face every day.
"It's not about making these people feel sorry for the older adults," said Lacey Eschete, a 22-year-old from Thibodaux. "It's about being empathetic."
The students volunteer as part of a senior course in nursing leadership and management. Volunteers got together with instructors at Ayo Hall on the Nicholls campus last week to demonstrate their tools and speak about their program.
Assistant Professor Todd Keller said the program shows students how to better manage elderly patients and become leaders among their peers.
The group visited Ochsner St. Anne Hospital in Raceland in August and the Lafourche Home for the Aged in September.
The students led workers, medical staff and administrators through four stations, each simulating a different condition common among geriatric patients.
The "empathy lung" is a weighted black vest covered in straps and Velcro. Tightened like a corset, it allows only shallow breaths, simulating conditions such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
To learn how arthritis feels, participants don the "physical-limitation suit." Metal rods embedded near the major joints painfully pinch bent knees, elbows, hips and shoulders. Weights attached to the legs make even simple movements difficult.
At the vision and hearing station, participants wear earplugs and goggles that replicate the effects of specific eye conditions such as glaucoma and cataracts.
People who reach this station early are encouraged to wear the goggles and earplugs for the rest of the workshop.
The final station uses a plastic model to show skin sores that can develop when a patient lies in bed too long.
Amanda Eymard and Brandi Crawford, the assistant professors who lead the project, said more than 50 student volunteers have visited 14 area facilities with elderly patients since its start in 2007.
While helping students, it also increases the knowledge and abilities of people who work daily with older patients, Keller said.
"This truly, truly enhances the quality of care throughout the region," Keller said.
Crawford said care for the elderly becomes increasingly important as baby boomers age. Today about 36 million Americans are older than 65, she said. By 2011, that number is expected to nearly double.
Eymard said she is always looking to involve more places where elderly people are cared for. To contact her about participating, e-mail her at amanda.eymard(at)nicholls.edu.
Sarah Clausen, 21, of Thibodaux, said it takes her and other students beyond classroom learning.
"Even though we have the knowledge, it's the feeling and the experience," she said.