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‘Empathy suits’ trial a first for aged care

ach staff trying on empathy outfits

ACH Group is set to become the first aged care provider in Australia to trial ‘empathy suits’ as part of an innovative staff training pilot.

The not-for-profit organisation has purchased three Premature Ageing Unisex Leisure (PAUL) Suits, developed by the University of Sydney’s Department of Rural Health over the past decade for use in aged care settings.

University of Sydney Health Education Officer Paul Bennett traveled to Adelaide last week to kick start the pilot, setting out his research and explaining the potential benefits on offer.

“An ageing population worldwide makes it increasingly important that health students understand issues that older people face and can provide empathetic care to them,” he said. “Many young people who begin their study have had no experience with people who are living with a disability or have complex health needs and these suits give them a unique insight into not only the physical changes but how it feels to be looked at differently.”

“As far as I am aware ACH Group is the first major aged care provider to introduce empathy suits to this extent as part of its formal staff training. As far as others choosing to take this up, it is a matter for them. From my viewpoint we value our staff and are investing in training to boost their skill set, which includes empathetic understanding of the needs for our customers. I see many benefits that will result in better health outcomes for customers.”

ACH Group General Manager People and Culture Nichole Tierney said the pilot project aligned with ACH Group’s service delivery philosophy.

“This is about training our staff to appreciate what it feels like, by putting them in the shoes of an older person or a person with disabilities. It’s about enabling them able to use a strengths-based approach when they are supporting a person to live well regardless of their health challenges.

“It’s not about building pity for a person, but empathy, because you experience those challenges for yourself.

“This is in keeping with ACH Group’s person-centred approach, helping staff to build empathy, challenge stereotypes, respect uniqueness and individual identity, raise awareness of potential limitations in the environment and communicate effectively with customers.

“We look forward to working with the University of Sydney to develop an innovative training model to be launched later this year.”

It is expected the suits will be introduced as part of Level Three training requirements for ACH Group’s 800 care and support workers.

The trial, to be rolled out this year in conjunction with the University of Sydney, will involve staff wearing a suit to carry out daily living activities to allow them to experience a range of conditions including vision impairment, hearing loss, a hunched posture, reduced tactile sense and shortened gait. The suit has arm and wrist straps to restrict movement, a leg splint to reduce the range of motion on one side of the body, and weights to create fatigue.

Caption: ACH Group dementia specialists Teresa Moran and Jodie Roberts trial the ‘empathy suit’ with University of Sydney researcher Paul Bennett.