South University Students ‘Experience’ Effects of Aging to Enhance Empathy Towards Elderly Patients


South University, Columbia Doctor of Pharmacy students recently felt what it was like to have their sight, hearing, and mobility compromised in an exercise designed to help them have a better understanding of elderly patients.The students wore earplugs and special glasses that mimic specific types of vision loss, making it more difficult to hear and see. They put on rubber gloves with cotton at the fingertips to simulate numbness and poor mobility, beans in their shoes to create the sensation of neuropathy and special ropes to create the effect of osteoporosis. They were also given a straw to breathe through to help them feel the stress of conditions that cause diminished lung capacity.

The students were then asked to perform simple hearing and vision tests, thread a needle, and take a walk around the classroom. Many were surprised at how difficult the tasks were to complete.

In addition to empathy, the exercise taught students techniques they can use to help them care for their elderly patients.

“It helped me communicate with a patient who was hard of hearing. I learned that changing my frequency can work more efficiently than speaking louder in certain cases,” said South University, Columbia Doctor of Pharmacy student Emily Shehadeh.

Faculty members Dr. Alyson Shirer and Dr. Erin Dalton incorporated the empathy exercise, created by facilitator Deanna Rock into their first-year pharmacy communications course. Ms. Rock is currently working on her Master’s in Clinical Mental Health Counseling and her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. The area of research she is studying is behavior modification with an emphasis on increasing sensitivity and empathy among healthcare providers, including first year pharmacy students.

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