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October 6th, 2016

Mayo Medical School Students Play the Aging Game

By In the Loop

For the past 18 years now, Mayo Medical School has been putting first-year medical students through a unique exercise intended to give students a greater understanding of the aging process.

Last month, first-year students at Mayo Medical School took a break from the books to play a game with their classmates. (No, not Pokémon Go.) The Aging Game, as it's known, is actually part of the school's curriculum and has been for 18 years. It was developed as a way to give students a chance to see into their futures, not only as physicians, but also as patients.

According to Darryl Chutka, M.D., of Mayo's Division of Preventive Medicine in Rochester, the game consists of a series of simulations designed to help medical students learn about the struggles of elderly patients.

The first part of the game, Dr. Chutka says, focuses on medications, since "most elderly take multiple medications every day." Following a brief medication discussion, the students are fitted with "heavy gloves" to make medication handling difficult. Then they're "told to follow the instructions on the label and lay out one day's worth of medication."

First-year medical student Kekoa Taparra found out that is easier said than done. "I'd just come back from being with my grandparents, and they take a lot of medications themselves," he tells us. "Before the simulation, I think I took for granted what they were going through in their daily lives, and so it was humbling for me to go through this part of the simulation."

Kekoa tells us he was further humbled when he and his classmates were fitted with goggles, ear plugs and restrictive bands around their legs to simulate the vision, hearing and mobility loss some elderly patients face. They were then asked to complete "routine, everyday" tasks like ordering a meal at a simulated, poorly lit restaurant. Kekoa tells us that when his "wife" had her purse stolen, he had to go to the simulated ATM to get money. "But I couldn't read the PIN number for my mock ATM card because the goggles I was wearing restricted my vision so badly," he says.

Next, he and the other students were put in wheelchairs and placed in a simulated nursing home. "We didn't have control over anything," he tells us. After being moved to a corner, "one of the simulated nurses then attempted to force-feed me," Kekoa says, adding that the experience "really made me think about how we just need to be more aware of some of the challenges that some of us are facing every day."

That, Dr. Chutka says, is the whole point. "We just want the students to understand some of the unique issues and needs that this segment of the population have, and to increase their compassion and empathy," he tells us. Sounds like a good lesson for us all.

You can watch the students at work in this story on Rochester's KTTC TV.  Then show us some compassion by sharing your comments below. Then, you can use the social media tools to share this story with others.

Tags: Dr. Darryl Chutka, Employee Stories, Kekoa Taparra, Mayo Medical School, Medical Education Stories

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