• 11.13.12

A Suit That Shows Young People What It Feels Like To Be Old

It looks like a hazmat suit, but the Age Man is meant to give young people empathy for the aging process.

A Suit That Shows Young People What It Feels Like To Be Old

It’s hard growing older. Your body, once a machine of unlimited potential, develops pains that don’t go away. It must be maintained through daily activity or things just stop working, and even then, it’s necessary to get things checked constantly. Because ultimately, your machine is deteriorating–but explaining this idea to someone young and invincible is nearly impossible.


That’s why the Age Man Suit (also called the Age Explorer) was developed by the Meyer-Hentschel Institut in conjunction with Berlin’s Evangelical Geriatrics Centre. It’s a somewhat silly outfit that’s meant to selectively limit sensory perception and prowess to simulate the feelings of growing old.

Inside the boiler suit, ear mufflers distort sound and a yellowed visor blurs eyesight and murks colors. A 22-pound vest weighs you down while padded joints make it hard to bend limbs. Huge gloves finish the ensemble, meaning you can forget about fine motor controls like playing video games or removing tiny pills from blister packs. Participants have described the experience as claustrophobic, and it makes you realize, that’s exactly how a senior might feel who’s sharp in the mind but physically trapped by a failing body.

But the purpose of the suit isn’t just an interesting photo op (though boy does it look silly). Instead, it’s to create hands-on empathy for medical students who will one day serve senior populations. The Age Man Suit is also a useful tool for developing and testing household appliances and food products. Anything a senior might see or touch, really, is perfect fodder for usability testing in the suit.

I do wonder, however, if there’s another application. Exoskeleton technologies developed by groups like NASA to augment human motor movements are intended to aid the senior population as much as anyone. Rather than simply using seniors as guinea pigs, could you develop and test such a system from the start by using Age Man suits to improve simulations? Because it’s one thing to say “these legs can support 60 pounds of weight!”–it would be nice to know if such systems will place exorbitant demands on sight or balance that a human tester at its prime might not even notice.

Read more here.

[Hat tip: Dvice]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.