Never mind finding the fountain of youth, apparently the secret to aging well depends on finding the right suit. This suit isn’t one that flatters, nor is it even comfortable. And it certainly isn’t made in Italy. Created in Boston at the MIT AgeLab, this suit is designed to emulate the affects of arthritis, spinal problems and a variety of other unpleasantries that come with old age. Dubbed the Age Gain Now Empathy System (“Agnes”), this suit has been worn by a variety of researchers to approximate the motor, visual, flexibility, dexterity and strength of a person in their mid-70s. As described by James Crabtree in his editorial for the Financial Times called “Agnes the ageing suit,” the experience of wearing Agnes for an afternoon made him feel like he had just climbed Mt. Rainier:
“It was only after a couple of hours in the suit that it hit me. I was exhausted…a series of elastic straps and wires made it difficult to stretch up, or bend down…there were the shoes, softened with special spongy soles that made stepping down stairs alarming…the suit’s goggles turned my vision yellow…as I was shown round I felt more and more worn out (Crabtree, FT).”
Wanting to learn more about the social impacts of aging, Crabtree flew to Boston to meet with “America’s most prominent ageing expert,” Dr. Joseph F. Coughlin. As the AgeLab’s founder, Dr. Coughlin is the mastermind behind the AgeLab’s innovative research approaches to the problems of an ageing society (like Agnes). Although Coughlin firmly believes that technology can relieve these age-old ailments, he openly acknowledges that technology alone cannot solve all the problems of an aging population. In fact, his blog called Disruptive Demographics often talks about how society needs to be reinvented to accommodate a longer-lived population. Put simply, current elder care models no longer work. When Crabtree asked Coughlin to elaborate on this belief during his AgeLab tour, Coughlin gave the following response:
“The senior living industry, from independent living on a campus to nursing homes, at the very best is under question, if not under siege…. Retirement in the future is not going to be about moving to the beach or to the golf course, even if you can afford it. Ageing well is about living in an environment that has the intensity and the density of activities that keep you engaged and healthy (Coughlin, FT).”
Evidently, the realities of aging won’t be going out of fashion any time soon. However, we’re pleased to note that with smart minds like Dr. Coughlin’s working on improving our future, living well will always be in fashion. Needless to say, we found this Financial Times piece on Dr. Coughlin extremely thought provoking. So much so that we’ve invited him to our annual Thought Forum to share some more of his research on how societal, demographic and technological changes are converging to help us all achieve 100 years of quality living. We look forward to sharing more of what we learn from Dr. Coughlin.