My Experience with Trading Ages® in Virtual Reality


Simply hearing about the challenges of aging is just not the same as experiencing them for oneself, even if only for a few moments.

Recently, I had the chance to do just that.

Silvia at SCAN HQ

In collaboration with SCAN Health Plan, one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit Medicare Advantage plans, serving more than 200,000 members in California. #GatherAndShareWithSCAN

Through a unique experience, I got to see, hear, and, maybe most importantly, feel some of the most common challenges of aging, allowing me to gain a deeper understanding of some of the specific hurdles seniors face every day.

SCAN is an organization I’ve been working with to create awareness of the grace and challenges of aging. They have just launched their Trading Ages workshop in Virtual Reality, and I visited their headquarters in Long Beach, California, to try it out for myself.

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What is Trading Ages?

Trading Ages is an interactive senior sensitivity workshop that provides participants first-hand experience of the challenges associated with aging, including hearing loss, vision changes and loss of dexterity.

Originally, SCAN developed Trading Ages for its own employees, but quickly saw how other organizations—and the seniors they serve—could benefit from the program. Trading Ages encourages participants to develop insight and empathy through active encounters with the physical, social and emotional aspects of aging.

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Now, SCAN has expanded Trading Ages using virtual reality, and what an experience it is!

Silvia wearing virtual reality goggles

Donning a pair of very stylish virtual reality goggles, I ventured into a new, virtual world. From the perspective of an older person, I lived the experience of a typical, busy doctor’s office, a restaurant, and a family home. 

In the virtual doctor’s office, I encountered my first challenge. A receptionist spoke to me and, while she seemed very friendly, I couldn’t quite hear what she was saying. Noises came from all sides and I couldn’t quite hear her. I noticed how I started to feel a little irritable and could sense frustration building up inside as I tried to follow what she was saying.

a body with a 360 degree camera above where the head would be

In this scene (I really lost my head in this one), I experienced hearing and vision loss. At some point, the receptionist handed me a piece of paper that I tried to read but could not. The background noise in the room was very distracting so I looked around only to discover a blaring TV and a family talking.

Next, in the virtual restaurant, I experienced vision and hearing loss again. The menu looked as if it were printed in an unusually tiny font and the lighting was too dim for reading. Again, it was hard to hear because of background noise and I found it difficult to follow the conversation. I actually felt a little sad and left out of the conversation that my virtual significant other was having with another person. Isn’t that fascinating?

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The third scene was a little bit different since my experience was from the point of view of the caregiver. The scene is set in a family home, which I share with “my virtual husband,” a person challenged with Alzheimer’s disease. As the scene unfolds, I experience feelings of frustration and impatience. I felt these feelings both as a caregiver in the scene as well as an outsider witnessing the dynamics of this virtual family.

In the scene, the wife, whose shoes I'm standing in, arrives after going out shopping. Her husband walks into the kitchen and begins to ask questions. As the conversation unfolds, I sense the wife’s emotions changing from gentle patience to a little bit of frustration. She’s forced to repeat herself multiple times, and, since she is getting ready to receive family over to their home, she is feeling anxious about meeting the challenges of both her caregiving responsibilities and her family responsibilities simultaneously.

When speaking afterward with the team at SCAN, I mentioned that even though it was a virtual experience, the emotions were real. It felt like a “lived” experience. I think because of this, it enhanced my ability to empathize with the seniors I know, love and meet each day.

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Walking in another’s shoes really changed my perspective. It reshaped some of my own expectations of aging and opened my eyes to some of the challenges down the road both as a caregiver and as an aging person myself.  I left with a lot to think about including things I can do to better prepare myself and make the process easier. I will share more about these in a future post, so be sure to come back to check those out.

In the meantime, do you belong to an organization in Southern California that could benefit from this type of training and experience?

Trading Ages is only available in Southern California. To request a Trading Ages workshop for your organization, contact

Thanks to the great folks at SCAN Health Plan for making this post possible. Since its founding in 1977, SCAN has been a mission-driven organization dedicated to keeping seniors healthy and independent. That’s a great thing.

To join the conversation, follow at #SCANstages, #SCAN100over100 and #GatherAndShareWithSCAN hashtags on social media.

Silvia Martinez
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