A new suit that replicates the effects of old age is now in use across the Trust.
The GERT suit — short for gerontology, the study of ageing — features a weighted vest, bracelets and anklets, a restrictive collar and belt, restrictors for the knees and elbows, ear muffs and glasses.
The suit was ordered by Falls CNS Carrie Tyler. It cost just under £2,000 and was paid for by Mid Essex Hospitals Charity.
“The suit mimics, in a healthy body, the effects on joints, restricted gait, muscle fatigue due to sarcopenia (degenerative loss of skeletal muscle mass), and clinical frailty,” said Carrie.
“We can adjust the vision of the user as we have eight different pairs of glasses that mimic cataracts and macular degeneration. The kyphosis collar and belt that gives you a stoop that forces you to look to the ground. You can’t straighten up and you need to use a cane.
"There are also ear muffs filter out high frequencies so it changes people’s balance they can’t perceive the sounds they’ve been used to them.”
The GERT suit debuted at the falls conference earlier in the month and was also worn by Trust secretary James Day at the daily Moving Forward meeting in the atrium.
“For the falls conference it was amazing as we could get people to wearing the suit to get on and off a bed (to demonstrate the difficulty). At Moving Forward we had James Day, a respected senior member of our staff, wear the suit and he very quickly understood what old age must be like, and that really opened everyone’s eyes. This showed how non-clinical staff would benefit just as much as clinical staff even if it’s just signposting an older person – that empathy is priceless.”
The suits also comes with overshoes to inhibit walking and gloves attached to a tens machine that can be used to alter nerve sensations and give you a tremor to show how fine motor skills are lost with a condition like Parkinson’s.
“It was purchased with a very clear vision that the therapists and falls champions on wards, and other specialists such as nutritionists would be all be able to take the equipment for a week at a time so more and more staff could experience this,” added Carrie.
“We were so lucky that the charity saw the benefit for the patients of staff being able to get this instant empathy.”