Madison County Age Simulation Program: Helping Kids Understand Aging
The Madison County Office for the Aging (MCOFA) employs a unique technique to help teenagers understand the aging process and to dispel stereotypes about the older population.
Through their award-winning "Age Simulation Program," middle school students engage in activities designed to increase tolerance and understanding for those with physical impairments due to aging or disability. The workshops grew out of a past partnership with the New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA). This led to the development of their "Teenager's Guide to Caregiving." Teachers use the facilitator's guide and a tool kit containing props to provide students a first-hand experience of what it would be like to walk, talk, hear, see and accomplish daily tasks with a disability.
When middle school students are made aware of the realities of the physical challenges others face, they can become more sensitive to special needs, according to MCOFA Executive Director Theresa Davis. The message of the workshops is: "The one thing we all have in common in this world, is that for every second, minute, hour, day and year that passes, we are all aging. It is a fact of life, it is life."
The program employs the use of everyday items to make its point. To simulate arthritis, bulky gloves are worn while students attempt to tie a shoelace, button a shirt, or select change from a coin purse. Painful sensations from walking are simulated through placement of a bead in the student's shoe. Glasses that are coated produce the experience of reading with vision loss.
After one student participated in a workshop, his mother called Davis and asked "What did you do to my son?" The mother said her son, who had always insensitively remarked about how long it took for the neighbor to go out and get her mail, was now running out to bring it to her.
"Whenever we are given the opportunity to help someone look outside his or her own life to understand that of another, we feel good. Helping kids understand the difficulties associated with growing old will make this a better world for all of us," said Davis.
The Age Simulation Program was recognized by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging with an Aging Achievement Award in 2009. The program reaches 750-1,000 students a year in Madison County. In the past, MCOFA was able to send teams of volunteers ranging in age from 16-90 years old to offer the workshop, but is no longer able to continue doing so just with volunteers. The commitment to the program has not waivered and schools, teachers and students continue to welcome the learning experience. Kits and guides are loaned out to school teachers and many of the supplies are inexpensive or reusable so costs are kept low.
Age Simulation Program workshops are presented in a way that is fun for students, while giving them a better understanding of aging and disability. Every day brings with it new lessons, expectations and knowledge. Aging is a very rewarding process because every day we grow and change but at our core, we remain who we are.
Did You Know?
-NYSOFA's A Teenager's Guide to Caregiving" is available here.
-This document, released by Texas A&M, Aging Simulation - Sensitizing People to the Process of Aging" outlines a similar program.
For more information about the Madison County Office for the Aging, please visit their website.