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Iconic actress Bette Davis once said, “Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” Years later, Bo Derek, remembered for her role in the movie “10,” agreed. “Aging is really hard,” she said, in an interview when she was 58. It’s likely both were speaking about their looks, but we know the changes we experience as we age also affect the way we think, feel, move, hear, see and basically live.

Medical professionals need to be cognizant of the effects of aging on us, their patients. And those involved in the training of tomorrow’s professionals, in the Health Science programs at the Collier County School District’s Lorenzo Walker Technical College and Lorenzo Walker Technical High School, are also very much aware.  

“Our Health Science programs have a long history” says Yolanda Flores, the district’s administrator of post-secondary education. “It dates to 1974 when the practical nursing program first opened its doors and our students were educated at the school and had clinical experiences at NCH,” Flores adds.

Today, the Health Science offerings include surgical technology, nursing assistant, medical assistant, phlebotomy, dental assistant and pharmacy technician training.

But Health Science coordinator Eileen Schoenknecht tells us that “while there still is some training that takes place in an acute care setting, as our population has grown, clinical space for training has diminished somewhat. We’ve had to identify alternative methods of providing our students with meaningful patient experiences.” She goes on to say that “we are now empowered to offer what we call ‘simulation’ for 50 percent of the required direct, hands-on care the students would have in a clinical setting.”

Geriatric simulation suits are now being used in classes held on the Lorenzo Walker campus. The purchase of five such suits was made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation of Collier County.

While budgets in a public-school system can be challenging, Flores credits “partnering organizations, such as the Community Foundation, with making a difference in helping us provide quality education for our students.”

And here’s where the “aging ain’t no place for sissies” part comes in. “There is an array of physical challenges a senior patient may have that may not be obvious to a caregiver,” according to nursing instructor Pam Wilkin. “There can be no mistaking how much these geriatric simulators, which are wearable suits, help our students understand what aging feels like.”

The suits consist of a weighted vest that causes your shoulders to droop, ankle weights, and neck, elbow, wrist, knee and elbow braces to reduce flexibility in the joints. Glasses simulate cataracts and glaucoma and ear plugs mimic hearing difficulties. Then there’s a walker and a cervical collar.

Schoenknecht describes how “the nursing assistant classes are using the geriatric simulators to discover new layers of understanding and compassion for the elderly when they realize how much their activities of daily living are impacted by loss of movement in joints, loss of stamina and energy and loss of agility.”

On the other end of the spectrum, a Community Foundation grant was also used to purchase a pediatric simulator which students have come to affectionately call “Pedi.” He joins a family which includes adult, birthing and newborn infant simulators. Pedi simulates a 5-year-old boy and health conditions found in the pediatric population.

Providing grant funding for innovative projects such as these is par for the course for the Community Foundation of Collier County which is in touch with emerging needs in our area. The Foundation has the knowledge and expertise to guide donors in a direction that will maximize the impact of their giving. To learn more about the Community Foundation, visit www.cfcollier.org, or call 239-649-5000. 

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Joe Landon is a communications consultant having retired as executive director of communications for the Collier County School District. Send suggestions for future columns to JoeLandon@Outlook.com.

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