Put Yourselves into Others’ Suits

Donned in the elderly simulation suits which weigh 14 pounds each, SHHO students immediately experienced the lives of the elderly. Each suit is equipped with lead bars and a strap with buckles at the shoulders and knees. The straps bestow a ‘humpback’ effect when fastened, causing wearers to stoop. The participants were also given blurry goggles and walking sticks to experience the simulation. The elderly simulation programme, an experiential journey designed by Eldpathy for young people to develop empathy for the elderly, is an activity under Sentimental Grandparent Scheme. 

On 31 January, participants from S.H. Ho College and Hang Seng Management College moved with their stooped posture in Chan Chun Ha Hall and tasted the difficulties in seniors’ daily life. Walking with their simulation suits, they could not take big strides as the weights restricted their legs. The blurry goggles they wore simulate the effects of macular degeneration which causes blurred vision, earplugs simulate impaired hearing, and inflexible gloves simulate the sensation of arthritic fingers. Participants wore these devices to complete tasks like reading a passage, using chopsticks to deliver tiny objects, and climbing the stairs. Some participants eventually understood why some seniors always look sleepy. With their vision blurred wearing these goggles, they found it difficult to focus and felt too tired to continue reading and comprehending. Zhuang Zhuoli, a Year 2 SHHO student, mentioned that the activity helped him understand the physical difficulties of the elderly encountered in daily life and said, ‘We should be empathetic to their needs and not to give them cold shoulders’. He promised to walk the talk and will take care of the elderly at home. He also opined that the activity greatly benefited his elderly visit activity planning in terms of tailor-making the activities according to their abilities and needs.

The simulation programme was offered by the award-winning social enterprise Eldpathy which aims to enable young people to experience the challenges faced by the seniors so as to be more empathetic to their needs. Herman Chan is Eldpathy’s co-founder and Executive Director who incorporated seniors’ daily challenges into the old-age simulation programme. Aspired to do something to improve the lives of the elderly, he and two fellow university students took part in an old-age simulation programme in Taiwan in 2012, and determined to introduce it to Hong Kong. Having competed with other participants in the Hong Kong Social Enterprise Challenge, a social venture business plan competition organized by the Center for Entrepreneurship of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, they won the championship and used the award money to buy 10 simulation suits from Taiwan and set up Eldpathy. ‘Eldpathy’ is the blended word of ‘Elderly’ and ‘Empathy’.

Organized by the Hong Kong Society for the Aged (SAGE) since 2012 for students of The University of Hong Kong, Hang Seng Management College and S.H. Ho College, the scheme aims to facilitate cross-generation harmony by providing with the younger generation a communication channel to exchange views with and learn about the life experiences of the elderly. After attending two training sessions, students will pay regular visits to the seniors of SAGE Madam Ho Sin Hang Home for the Elderly to listen to their life experiences and design their life story books by the end of June 2015.