Virtual aging for living in a real world

When you visit the senior center is an attempt to raise awareness by the younger or able-bodied person [especially those in power] to see what older people in Bethel have to deal with at their senior center. The images are hosted by a friend at Visit Bethel Alaska’s Eddie Hoffman Senior Center.

There are suggestions there for obscuring vision or approximating a wheelchair on gravel, etc. that anyone can do to get a feeling for whether a building or service is either dangerous (fire exits, poor seating and lighting) or inadequate for other people. Some other checklists [see categories of postings] exist for assistive living facilities, but few if any for regular community facilities.

Another way to empathize came from finding a type of Internet search tool,, which allows human type questions such as How to buy furniture appropriate for elderly people? The answer led to
Virtual Home

The course shows age and functionally appropriate and inappropiate home design. This is a project from the “Environmental Geriatrics” unit of

The Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology, an integral part of the Weill Medical College of Cornell University since 1997, is dedicated to serving the physical, social, mental health and environmental needs of older adults. Since its inception, it has developed many innovative programs to serve the comprehensive needs of older adults, including Environmental Geriatrics, an environmental and home safety research and educational program. …this program educates providers on how age-appropriate design can improve the safety and function of older adults with physical, sensory and cognitive disabilities.

[Empasis added. Obviously the site is geared towards medical students, thus the contradiction of aging as a normal process and aging as a disease in that sentence and the next ones.]

Although we undergo physical and sensory changes throughout our lifetime, the environment — originally designed to meet the needs of a younger user group without functional limitations — remains static.

As a result, a disparity exists between the characteristics of older adults and the demands of the environment. This disparity can lead to injury, excess disability, loss of independence, and reduced quality of life.

In the next series of frames, you will view an older person with age-related impairments.

The “multimedia course” uses Flash but parts can be printed. Unfortunately, it can’t readily be downloaded for off-line use and on dial-up the text and the illustrations get amusingly or confusingly out-of-sync. It would be nice if there were a static index then one could immediately go to just the section showing proper and improper furniture, say, or the animation related to sitting and standing from furniture.

Once loaded, the illustrations can be played and re-played so the finer points of how poor lighting affects visual discrepancies can be more easily understood. There are also nice introductions to how aging affects the body (changes in muscle mass, for example). [Primary, secondary, and even tertiary schools in the US don’t teach basic human biology, for which ignorance we all suffer the rest of our lives.]

Using state-of-the-art 3D software that combines sound, text and moving images, our educational course on Environmental Geriatrics allows medical students and health care providers:

* To make a virtual home visit with an older patient who has reduced visual, hearing, mobility, and memory skills;
* Witness virtual patients unnecessarily struggling to accomplish daily tasks of living (e.g., bathing, eating, ambulating, and taking medications);
* Observe patients encountering remediable environmental hazards, that increase fall and burn risk, which are not usually observable in practice;
* Experience virtually the effect of visual impairments, such as macular degeneration or glaucoma, while interacting with the environment (e.g., descending stairs);
* Identify specific assistive devices and environmental features that improve patients’ ADL/IADL functioning while reducing injury risk;
* Identify specific assessment tools for the geriatric patient;
* Learn about reimbursement mechanisms and national resources for home modifications (and assistive technologies)

Continuing medical education credit is available, but the demonstration is geared towards the general public. There’s a little bit about the engineering and programming here, Creating a 3D Animation. I wish there were more technical information. Also, what research was done for the anthropometrics and population variation data that underlies the engineering and animation? [Human biology and biocultural adaptation, again. People’s environments are cultural. The normative middle-class, mid-1950s house would not have fitted the late Julia Child nor most of our older rural populations. But this is beyond the scope of the Cornell model.] Go visit to see what could be done to enhance longer life.

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2 Responses to “Virtual aging for living in a real world”

  1. 1 Karen G 2006 September 22 at 10:43 pm

    I am looking after my aunt whom is coming up to 90 years old Christmas Day. I am hoping that someone out there has some ideas, she is a double amputee, failing eyesight and hearing, etc. I have purchased a wheelchair accessible van so I can at least get her out of the house for a few hours, but the van keeps breaking down. I don’t have alot of money, so I am trying to find things for her to do, so she isn’t sitting in her wheelchair all day and night. The story is alot deeper problems though. I guess I am pleading for some ideas. If there is anyone out there that would like to talk to me more about this problem I would love to hear from you. You don’t realize how hard it is for the elderly when they have to rely on you even to take them to the bathroom, until you have to take care of them day and night. I really hope some responds to this. I live in Vancouver Canada. Thankyou in advance.

    This has been moved up to How to start — Karen G in Vancouver for commenting there. vuee

  1. 1 Karen G in Vancouver « O’Folks Trackback on 2006 September 22 at 11:49 pm
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