April 26, 2016

Feelin’ Young but Feelin’ Old

The Genworth Aging Experiment exhibit was on display earlier this month at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City, New Jersey. The exhibit allows museum-goers to experience what it feels like to age. Participants can don an electronic suit that mimics many of the common ailments suffered by seniors, including muscle degeneration and limited vision and hearing. The museum then asks participants to complete a variety of everyday tasks to understand how difficult these activities become as individuals age.

Andy Newman, a reporter from the New York Times, recently took the suit for a test-drive. After 10 minutes in the suit, he reports “a remarkable amount of frustration, depression and hopelessness” associated with completing daily activities. After struggling to walk the equivalent of half a block on a treadmill, he called his parents to determine the suit’s accuracy. Could it really be that difficult to go such short distances?
My father, Aaron Newman, happens to be 85. I called him up. I described the treadmill experience and asked if that sounded about right.
“No,” he said. “It’s much worse.”
My mother, Helen Newman, who is only 84, got on the phone. I told her how the suit made me feel like nothing was worth the effort.
“That’s actually how I reacted this morning,” she said. “I got up with all my bones creaking, I staggered to the bathroom, and I said, ‘Ahh, I’ll go back to bed.’”
According to the suit’s creators, the point is to connect participants’ experience wearing the suit with their understanding towards older adults. Or, as Andy Newman puts it, wearing the suit “makes you a little less likely to lose patience and a little more likely to feel empathy with the older people in your life.” You can watch a video of the suit in action at Genworth.com’s exhibit webpage.