I am all for this! Including the care of family is even better: http://amarillo.com/news/local-news/...istic-approach

Traci Taylor grabbed her spouse’s hand as he lay on the bed, but the color of his skin let her know that she had just missed her chance to tell him goodbye.

“Is it supposed to look like that?” she said to the nurse nearby as tears ran down her cheeks. “I don’t think that’s right.”

Taylor, a nursing instructor at West Texas A&M University, didn’t actually lose a husband, and her tears were simply the product of some minor acting skills. It was part of a recent exercise in which about 140 nursing students used high-tech mannequins to simulate end-of-life scenarios.

The mannequins can perform actual human functions such as breathing and salivating and have been used increasingly in recent years to help train those looking for work in the health care field. The exercise, a collaboration between WT and Amarillo College, involved faculty members who acted as the mannequin’s spouse to show some of the emotional aspects of caring for terminally ill patients.

“It was designed to be a bit realistic and help students because nursing is holistic care,” Taylor said.

“The hope was to address not just the needs of patients, but also the needs of the wife.”

Officials involved with the exercise say students going into health care need to learn how to adapt to a variety of situations, including times when a patient is succumbing to a terminal disease.

Laura Reyher, director of Baptist St. Anthony’s Health System’s hospice, said with the aging population nurses and caregivers will treat more patients at the end of their lives in the coming years.

She said the number of patients at her hospice has doubled or tripled during the past decade. It currently serves hundreds of patients.

Reyher said nurses who care for dying patients need to be aware of personal situations and know how to work with family members.

“We know that as a person, they’re not just whatever that disease is. They’re much more complex,” she said. “That’s what makes hospices work.”

The U.S. population of those aged 65 and older increased by 15 percent from 1998 to 2008, according to figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Those same figures show that the population of U.S. adults aged 45 to 64 increased by 37 percent during that same time period.

The CDC also reports that adults older than 45 made up 57 percent of doctor visits in the U.S. two years ago, up from 49 percent in 1998.

The number of Texans living in nursing homes was 90,534, according to a census of certified nursing facilities. That count is an increase from 2000, when 85,275 Texans lived in nursing homes.

Potter and Randall counties had 27,848 residents aged 65 and older in 2010, but that figure is expected to jump to 31,127 in 2015, according to figures from the Area Agency on Aging, an entity in Amarillo that provides several services to adults aged 60 and older.

“When it comes to understanding the population, it’s very important to remember that they still have a say, especially when it comes to end-of-life care,” said Melissa Carter, director of the Area Agency on Aging. “Instead of us saying, 'No, no, this will be the best thing for you,’ we need to take time to listen to them.”

The exercises with AC and WT took place at the community college’s west campus and at a facility in the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

Michelle Campbell, a WT nursing student, worked on a mannequin that simulated a person in the last stages of cancer. During the exercise, the mannequin exhibited trouble breathing and expressed pain. She helped control his symptoms by administering medication.

“I felt comfortable, but it took me out of my comfort zone with the fact that the mannequin is dying on you,” she said. “The instructor playing the wife literally started crying, and I thought, 'Oh, my goodness. How do I professionally respond to this?’”

In addition to working on the mannequins, the exercise taught nursing students how to deal with spouses of dying patients. Some of their work involved praying, hugging and holding hands with the instructors who acted as spouses.

Angela Gomez, an AC nursing student, said she believes the drills are beneficial for those going into the field.

“We do that quite often,” she said, referring to how end-of-life simulations have been part of AC’s nursing curriculum since 2006. “I think it’s really necessary because we get a chance to make errors sometimes without there being a real patient.”