Aging Simulation – Sensitizing People to the Process of Aging

The following activities were developed to help people experience some of the sensory changes that older adults may experience. These may be used with small or large groups. With a large group, divide into small groups and provide each group with a different simulation. Each group can then share their feelings with the total group. Use the corresponding “Sensory Change” handouts after each activity. To set this program up as “learning stations,” download “table tents” (PDF) that identify the different activities at each station.

Becoming Sensitive to Changes in Sight

  1. Obtain a set of swimmer’s goggles:

    1. Paste yellow transparent plastic paper on the lenses to represent the yellowing of the lens of the eye.
    2. Paste strips of black paper in a circle around each eye to depict tunnel vision.

    Have participants copy a list of words from a chart.

    Chronic Care Challenges Simulation Glasses may be obtained from eNasco Online Catalog ( These glasses help the wearer experience cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, retinopathy, hemianopsia and detached retina.

  2. Vary the light intensity of the room slowly and dramatically to illustrate the circumstances of light and dark adaptation. Ask participants to read the first word on the chart.
  3. Use totally blackened goggles to represent blindness.

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Becoming Sensitive to Changes in Hearing

  1. Use a set of swimmer’s ear plugs, ear muffs or stocking hat to dull the sound of people talking. Give the person directions on how to accomplish a simple task such as separating an egg. Time the people to illustrate how hearing loss may affect how fast a person accomplishes a given assignment.
  2. Use speech itself as a training tool.
    1. Have two or three people give instructions to a person at the same time. Ask the person to repeat the instructions given.
    2. Have different people with different voice levels read aloud the same passage from behind a screen.
    3. Have people speak at differing speeds.
  3. Do not forget the interrelation of vision and hearing. Have a blindfolded person listen to instructions which are given at a fast pace. This will illustrate how often we depend upon seeing someone talk to hear what they are saying.

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Becoming Sensitive to Changes in Touch

  1. Plastic Gloves: Through the use of plastic gloves, the person can simulate difficulties in distinguishing water temperatures and in grasping small objects. Ask participant to pick up a small square of paper from the table.
  2. Numz-It: This liquid materials used on babies’ teeth desensitizes the fingers for a short period of time.
  3. Have the person wear a pair of thick gloves and then have him tie his shoe or do any other similar intricate task—button a shirt or buckle a belt.

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Becoming Sensitive to Changes in Dexterity

  1. One-handed exercises will demonstrate the difficulty encountered by a person who is missing a limb or who has lost the use of a limb. Have participants try to write their names using their left hand.
  2. Take masking tape and place it around several fingers and/or joints to represent a missing finger or stiffened joint. Have participants unscrew a jar lid, or open a can.
  3. Use elastic bandages to totally or partially disrupt the functioning of one limb, such as a leg or a knee joint.

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Becoming Sensitive to Changes in Taste

  1. Block out the visual and smelling capacities of the person by use of a blindfold and cotton in the nose and have him identify:
    1. An apple versus a potato (food with similar textures)
    2. A potato chip versus a corn chip
  2. Blindfold participants and get them to identify substances such as lemons, beef, or pudding that has been pureed in a blender. Texture no longer aids in identification.
  3. Use mouthwash to clean the mouth and eliminate taste of foods.

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Becoming Sensitive to Changes in Smell

  1. Use nose plugs or pieces of cotton to block the nostrils. Have subjects describe what it is they smell or taste. Use a range of foods—apples, oranges, peanut butter and chocolate.
  2. Blindfold participants and present them with a variety of odors which they have to identify. Be certain to use a range of odors.
  3. Use on strong odor, such as musk oil, to mask other odors. Then have the participants try to tell you what the other odors are.

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Becoming Sensitive to Changes in Mobility and Balance

  1. Have people attempt to carry a set of packages in their hand while trying to use a walker or a cane. Note how few women have pockets in which to carry possessions when they have to use a walker.
  2. Set a person in a desk chair and spin him around a few times. Then ask him to walk in a straight line. A person who is having a mobility problem will have a similar kind of dizziness.
  3. Paste heavy sponge rubber on the bottom of a pair of shoes or put the right shoe on the left foot, etc. and have the person walk in them. Be certain to use ill-fitting shoes since many people, particularly older people, do not have adequate foot wear.

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Adapted from Sensitizing People to the Processes of Aging: The In-Service Educator’s Guide by Marvin Ernst and Herbert Shore, Dallas Geriatric Research Institute, 1977. Distributed by: Judith L. Warren, Ph.D., Associate Director for Human Sciences, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, Texas A&M System, College Station, Texas. 2007.

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Last updated: 31 October, 2013

Educational programs of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service are open to all people without regard to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability, genetic information or veteran status.