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AGNES Suit Adds Fifty Years To Your Age (VIDEO)

First Posted: 03/ 6/2012 7:33 am Updated: 03/ 6/2012 8:52 am

CARA SANTA MARIA: I'm about to meet with Dr. Joseph Coughlin, the director of the MIT AgeLab. And he's brought along his research associate, Angelina Jennis. Now, they've brought the AGNES suit for me to try on, and that's going to help me feel what it's like when I've aged fifty years.

JOSEPH COUGHLIN: You're looking at AGNES, which stands for Age Gain Now Empathy System. AGNES is a tool that we developed at the lab to give students, engineers, and the companies and governments we work with the "aha" moment of what it may feel like to be somebody in their late seventies with at least one or two chronic diseases.

CSM: Oh, so Age Gain Now means the minute you put the suit on you feel much older?

JC: Exactly, we can make you twenty to eighty in about twenty minutes.

CSM: [laughs] I'm looking forward to that!

JC: Yeah, most people look forward to taking it off after.

CSM: [laughs] Sure! So Angelina, do you mind, kind of, showing me some of the components of the suit that I can look forward to?

ANGELINA JENNIS: Sure. If we look at the helmet here, we have these bungee cords that would actually be attached to the hips at the harness. And this is going to simulate spinal compression by tugging down on you, so you get that hunched look that you see in a lot of older adults.

CSM: It's really hard to look up to see the lights at the top of the elevator. Can you guys hold the elevator? Thank you. Hi-- Headed out to the streets of New York City now. Here we go.

AJ: And we have shoes, and the shoes have foam on the bottom. And that represents the degradation of your inner ear, so that you're less certain of each step you take.

CSM: So I finally made it to the subway, but it's really slick on these bricks. And actually, for the first time I think in my life, I have to hold on for dear life to this guard rail. I'm really unsteady in my steps.

AJ: We have this neck brace and that, working with the bungee cords, makes it difficult to turn.

CSM: It's really hard for me to even see if anybody is, kind of, coming up behind me, because I have to turn my entire body and not just my neck.

AJ: We have arm bands and knee pads, and these just make it more difficult to bend at the arms--bend at the joints. And the wrist bands do the same at the wrist. Two pairs of gloves will simulate loss in tactile sensation.

CSM: I see, so between the wrist being restricted and wearing these gloves, the fine motor control is kind of going to go out the window, isn't it?

AJ: Right, opening packaging, turning the doorknob...

CSM: Opening pill bottles...I see. It's really not very easy to grab things. Oh! Oh!

AJ: The goggles are intended to simulate loss of vision, making it more difficult to read things that aren't black on white.

CSM: That's 4th Street--that's 4th street. I've got to go this way. I'm dealing with some of the struggles here, I think, of old age.

AJ: We have another set of straps that will be attached from your hips to your feet. And this makes-- it shortens your gait. These bands will be attached from the hip to the arm so that you can't lift your arms over your shoulders as easily.

CSM: I see. Oh. I think another thing, you know, that a lot of elderly people--not just elderly people, all people--have to take cabs in the city. We have to get places. And I bet you this is not going to be easy, so I think I'm going to try it out now. The problem is I'm not really even sure if I can extend my arm to hail a cab. Let's see. Here come some cars. Oh, oh look! I got one! Oh my goodness, it is so hard to lift my legs up. I'm lucky that I was able to get a cab quickly because I felt myself getting sore, just standing there on the side of the street.

I really feel like I learned so much about what it will be like for me in fifty years by wearing the AGNES suit. I really want to thank MIT for providing it, thank Dr. Coughlin, thank Angelina, and...I think I'm gonna go take a nap.

ARIANNA HUFFINGTON: The suit does not affect your libido?

CSM: [laughs]

For more on AGNES and MIT's AgeLab, click here.

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