What’s it like to be 75 years old? Try this on.

by Jay London on December 28, 2011

in Design, Health, In the News, Learning, Modern Geekhood, Research

The U.S. population of persons 65 years or older numbered 39.6 million in 2009 and is expected to increase to 72.1 million by 2030. Coupled with falling birth rates and lengthening age expectancies, the U.S. population is rapidly aging.

For engineers and designers, this creates design challenges that didn’t previously exist with younger populations. Existing and developing products may need to be altered to cater to the older demographic.

Thanks to MIT’s Agelab, young designers may be better equipped to understand the needs of their aging clients. Under the direction of Joe Coughlin, Agelab has created AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System), a suit designed to approximate the motor, visual, flexibility, dexterity, and strength of a person in their mid-70s.

AGNES simulates a gerontological atmosphere in retail, public transportation, and workplace environments. Braces and bands mimic joint stiffness and muscular fatigue. Leg straps create slower leg movements, and helmet attachments give the wearer an age-induced curved spine. Yellow eyeglasses make it difficult to read small print, and earplugs simulate difficulty with sounds and tones.

MIT Research Fellow Rozanne Puleo told Fastcodesign.com:

“We’ve suited up students and taken them to the grocery store to purchase foods with low sugar, low sodium, and low fat—foods commonly purchased by older adults. They found that it was very challenging to locate these items on the shelf. That’s valuable information that we can take back to organizations.”

Part of the Engineering Systems Division, MIT AgeLab works to transform technologies into practical solutions that improve how products are designed and services are delivered. In addition to AGNES, the AgeLab has created AwareCar (a vehicle that monitors driver state); Miss Daisy (a driving simulator used for evaluating cognitive distraction and the effects of disease and medication); and Miss Rosie (a Volkswagen Beetle that evaluates a driver’s capacity for vehicle operation), among others.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Will December 28, 2011 at 10:34 pm

Every young person should be required to wear one of those suits for at least a week.


Bryan January 3, 2012 at 10:21 am

Every older person should be required to contemplate the implications of any statement that begins with “Every young person should be required…”

You can’t force empathy on anyone; you can, however, easily create resentment.


Chris December 29, 2011 at 11:10 am

Ear plugs? Srsly? I already have hearing aides at age 37…. and glasses… This is a bit of a FAIL for MIT and the AgeLabs…. There are 80 year-old people out there that are in better shape than 20 somethings…


Nathan December 29, 2011 at 11:33 am

Chris, you are probably an outlier. Most men don’t have hearing aids in their mid 30′s.

Their will always be exceptions. This is not a fail.


C Marcus December 31, 2011 at 11:40 am

Please clarify: “39.6 million in 2009 and is expected to increase by over 40 percent by 2030, totaling 72.1 million.” It is over 40 percent, but it’s also over 80 percent.


Viktor January 6, 2012 at 1:45 pm

Probably, it’s about the share of population: increase from ~13% in 2009 to ~18% in 2030.


jon December 31, 2011 at 12:19 pm

‘Chris, you are probably an outlier. Most men don’t have hearing aids in their mid 30′s.’ – lol i second that


Clint January 17, 2012 at 5:51 am

I think its a great way to get the younger generation to appreciate how tough life becomes with many years under your belt! Innovative indeed


Richard Namon January 25, 2012 at 8:57 pm

This study is another form of ageism. There are two classes of elderly – the healthy and the unhealthy. While the intent is to educate and develop better and more ergonomic designs for the elderly, improved designs would benefit persons of all ages – not just the elderly.

The picture here paints all elderly with a broad brush, and it’s not accurate. I should know – I am the target group.


Judith Ronat January 26, 2012 at 1:54 am

Let these youngsters look at the Youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bg0_ITG01bs about 100 year old Bel Kaufman lecturing at Hunter College.
These suits should be for the disabled, NOT the aged.


Dean Zeilon January 26, 2012 at 8:13 am

Might be interesting for 75 year old to wear the outfit and find out if it is restrictive or helpful.


Richard Namon January 27, 2012 at 12:24 pm

And how could it be helpful???


Sam February 11, 2012 at 1:01 pm

Thanks for studying this. My father is 74, in good health, but has grown stiffer and less straight and has confided that he is no longer comfortable driving in the rain or at night. Good to know that designers are considering people like him who are independent but with a less supple body. I would hardly call him ‘disabled’.


Evilcyber March 1, 2012 at 8:27 pm

With the constantly rising rates of obesity, it might be equally worthwhile to let students and (future) designers experience what it feels like to be severely obese, given the fact that most designers live on Apple products, soybeans, mocha and water.


ASOS promo code January 16, 2014 at 10:24 pm

Great article.


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