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Scientists create suit that simulates old age

Getting old is no fun. Most people hit their peak between 25 and 30, and after that our bodies slowly start to fall apart. Knees creak, your back aches, you can’t see things quite as well as you used to; all of these are common, well-known symptoms of age, yet its very difficult for the young to understand exactly how the elderly feel.

Hoping to change that, a group of German scientists at the Evangelical Geriatrics Centre in Berlin have created the Age Man Suit. The Guardian has details:

Consisting of ear-protectors that stifle hearing, a yellow visor that blurs eyesight and makes it hard to distinguish colours, knee and elbow pads which stiffen the joints, a Kevlar-jacket-style vest which presses uncomfortably against my chest, and padded gloves, the Age Man Suit, which weighs around 10kg, has been custom-made to simulate the physical consequences of old age.

As a result, the suit makes it more difficult to see, move, and perform intricate tasks. Walking up stairs is physically draining and attempting to open a medicine container is described as “a fumbling disaster.”

While there is an inherent humor in effectively crippling medical students, the goal of the suit is to instill empathy in the next generation of German doctors. The country (and most of the world) is facing a future in which a vast section of its population is over the age of 60, and the scientists hope that by forcing prospective medical workers to experience what the elderly are going through first hand they can instill greater understanding in how to best deal with these physical maladies.

“My aim is to turn young energetic people into slow, creaking beings, temporarily at least,” said senior physician Rahel Eckardt. “Rather than a PowerPoint presentation, this is the best way of giving them a real idea of what it’s like to be old — that is, 75 and upwards — and only once we have their empathy can we really begin to win students round to becoming interested in old people as patients.” Geriatric medicine, Eckardt claims, has always had trouble attracting doctors more interested in traditionally lucrative fields like neurology.

“Geriatrics is a relatively new field, which doesn’t have the status of other areas of medicine like surgery,” said 22-year-old medical student Elisabeth Steinhagen. “But it involves a great variety of illnesses, not just arthritis and dementia, and so is a fascinating field.”

“But if we’re going to take it seriously, doctors need to develop social skills, like learning to speak louder and clearer, or to appreciate that things that are easy for us, like getting out of bed, are more difficult for older people. They might sound like basic things but it’s amazing how many doctors don’t think about them,” Steinhagen added.