Simulated Environments Help Prepare Veterans for Community Life

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WASHINGTON, DC—The first design project Patricia Moore undertook was to build a touch-sensitive lamp for her grandfather, a veteran whose fingers were no longer able to grip and twist the switch on his lamp. Decades later, after becoming an internationally renowned gerontologist and designer, Moore finds herself designing for veterans again. Last month, the DC VA Medical Center unveiled her latest creation: Independence Way, a simulated village located within the physical and rehabilitation clinic at the DCVAMC.

independence-comp.jpgThe first of its kind in the VA, Independence Way consists of a multitude of stations designed to simulate real-life environments that veterans would encounter in their community. It includes a grocery store, metro station, sidewalk, front porch, and ATM. Because the goal is to help veterans reintegrate into their communities, everything is as realistic as possible. There are grocery lists to go along with the tiny grocery store, where the food is inedible, but weighted the same as the real thing. There are ATM cards to go along with the working—though, non-cash dispensing—ATM machine. And the front porch comes equipped with three different kinds of locks, a mailbox, a working porch light, and a flag that needs to be hung.

“We want patients to realize that the reason we’re having them lift that prosthetic leg and put it down over and over and over again is so that they can walk across the street,” Moore declared.

Independence Way will be used by veterans with a variety of rehabilitative needs. Veterans with physical impairments will get acclimated to maneuvering into houses and down sidewalks, while veterans with cognitive impairments will get used to the mental challenge of following grocery lists, tallying up money, and navigating train schedules.

“We take our abilities for granted until a catastrophic injury reminds us how quickly things can change,” noted Fernando Rivera, former director of the DCVAMC and now acting director of VISN 5. “This is a new and unique approach to rehabilitative services. It will provide a safe and friendly urban life situation in the safety of the VA campus.”

The goal, Rivera explained, is successful re-entry into the community and independence within that community—thus the name of the village.

Moore has worked with outpatient and acute care hospitals in the past, as well as a on a variety of projects that focused on differently-abled individuals. She was on the team that created the Good Grips line of kitchen instruments designed to be more comfortable and easy to use. Her company—MooreDesign Associates—is currently working on the design of the Honolulu light rail system, with the goal of making it more aging and ability friendly to accommodate the aging tourist population.

However, with buzz generated by the installation of Independence Way at VA’s flagship medical center, she might find herself with enough work to last a lifetime. “Everywhere I go now, people from VA are asking, ‘When are we getting one?’” Moore exclaimed. “And if I end my career working in VA, I’ll be perfectly happy.”

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