Walking in granny's shoes

Experience life as an older person with an"old-age suit" developed by engineers at MIT.


An "old suit" developed by MIT AgeLab

If you want to feel way older than you are, give Agnes a call. She's guaranteed to make you feel bent and creaky before your time.

"Agnes" is a head-to-toe "old-age suit" developed by engineers at MIT's AgeLab. Using Dickies coveralls as a base, the suits feature bungee cord-like bands that prevent full extension of limbs, braces that make it harder to move them, shoes that impede balance and glasses that blur the fine print. It makes anyone who puts one on feel like they have the body of the average 75-year-old.

Used first by engineers in their mid-20s, the adjustable suits are now being tried out by corporate designers, product developers and even sales executives who want to understand the difficulties of opening a jar, maneuvering through a store or just walking down the street when you have a dowager's hump, diabetes or arthritis.

"Most people are so fatigued after five minutes of wearing one that they have to fight the urge to sit down," said Angelina Gerris, the MIT research associate in charge of Agnes management. "One guy tried to open a box of his own company's cake mix and said, 'This is too hard, I'll just buy a ready-made one.' It really allows you to pick up on things that older adults have just learned to cope with over time, like having more difficulty turning a doorknob."

Another reason that Agnes (an acronym for Age Gain Now Empathy System) may become increasingly useful for market research is that no previous generation has ever been more against appearing old.

"Baby boomers, especially, want their stuff to look cool," Gennis said. "They don't want anything that screams 'geriatric,' like those bulky gray cellphones with four buttons."

Agnes is also providing a public service, Gennis said, by persuading at least some of her wearers to improve their health habits while they're young.

Watch video of students wearing Agnes suits: www.startribune.com/a957.

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