Experiencing 65, as a 40 year old – The AGING SUIT

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AbodianLast week I went into Seattle to the Abodian showroom.  I was invited, as an “Aging in Place Specialist” to come in and try on their rented “AGE Exploration Suit” as part of a presentation on learning more about Aging in Place and Universal Design features of their industry’s leading-edge technology, in cabinetry and storage solutions that have internal motorized openers and closers, along with high tech appliances like refrigerators, dishwashers, stoves and hoods.  What a wonderful experience.

Now I’d seen much of the technology they had related to drawer openers and closers.  But what I hadn’t ever experienced was the SUIT.  BLUM has created a suit that you can wear which creates the sensation you are about 20-25 years older, 25 pounds heavier, can’t bend your joints as well without pain, and can’t lift your arms and shoulders above your head as well.  Beyond that, they also outfit you with gloves that take away the tactile sensation in your hands and fingers (wow, what a pain THAT is to not be able to feel with your fingertips!), headphones to create a detriment in your hearing ability, a helmet that has a lense which
yellows (like the aging eyes) your environment and damages your ability to ascertain the differences between colors, as well as bi-focal glasses that blur your eyesight at two different levels.  Talk about a NEW REALITY EXPERIENCE… Wow.

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Getting “Geared Up” for the AGING Experience

Before they put on the suit, they have you operate some of the drawers and cabinetry, and get a few things up and down, in and out of the base and upper cabinets, so you have a reference point of “able” at your own age, before putting on the suit.  Then you gear up!  After about 10 minutes of talking to you while you are in the suit (getting hot and tired from holding the extra weight that’s been inserted into sleeves in the suit), they begin your “testing regimen”.  You are tasked with the following to do list, and you are watched and timed while you do the following daily ritual type activities:

 

 

 

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Trying to get correct change out of a wallet

1)      Open a wallet and get 81 cents correct change out of the coin purse pocket in the wallet.

2)      Pick out a BLUE paper clip in a box with about 250 paperclips of assorted colors.

3)      Get a ream of paper off the back of a bottom shelf in a base cabinet and put it on the counter.

4)      Get a stack of breakable plates down from an upper shelf and put them on the countertop.

5)      And a few other similar type daily tasks…

So, how do you think it went?  How do you think I FELT?  The first word that comes to mind is “Appreciation”, followed by “Empathy”.  This “age addition” puts me right where my folks are, with me being 40 years old and they being 63-64.  WOW, what a reality check this was.  Not only as an architect and professional designer with a passion (and already plenty of education) about Baby Boomers and housing solutions that consider our new 1/3 of life longevity we have created in the last 150 years (with medical and technology advances).  But also as a SON, as an ADULT CHILD.  As someone that WILL soon be tasked with helping create care solutions for my own folks as they enter their latter 1/3 of life.

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Trying to get paper off of the bottom shelf

Is what YOU are designing considering any of this?  Are YOUR products and services aware of where we are going?  Did you know that 2/3 of people that have EVER turned 65 years old are ALIVE TODAY!?  Did you know that between 1950 and 2040 the 85+ age group will have grown from 0.5% to 5% of the population, a TENFOLD increase!?  Did you know there are forecasters who are saying the it’s quite likely my own children (6 and 9 years old) could live to 100… 120… maybe even 150 years old when it comes to THEIR children?

Does your business, service, or products design solutions FOR this information?  If NOT, how does that make YOU FEEL?  Time to consider it, and get ahead of the needs of the Boomer Consumer.  10,000 people are turning 65 years old EVERY DAY for the last 3 years and the next 17 years.  For me, I’m designing HOUSING solutions (and teaching / speaking / writing books) that show others how to do so as well, with this “plate tectonics” level massive shift in the demographics of our clients and consumers.  You’d better start paddling in your R&D boat, or you are going to get swallowed by the “Silver Tsunami” as it’s being called… Or be up a creek, without a paddle.  Your choice.

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Trying to button & zip up a shirt!

I can only INFORM and INVITE people to consider the information, education, and learning we provide.  I can’t force anyone to PLAN AHEAD, or NOT PROCRASTINATE.  We all know that working in planning mode and being pro-active is much cheaper and emotionally more sane that waiting for an accident that forces us into panic mode, back-peddling, emotionally overwhelming decisions that usually aren’t the best or most cost effective.  But I can’t MAKE you want to keep your independence, your happiness, your home, your pets, your memories, your garden, and your neighbors.  YOU have do decide it’s important enough.  We hope you do!

 



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5 thoughts on “Experiencing 65, as a 40 year old – The AGING SUIT
  • Aaron: I appreciate your comments on the “aging suit” and have seen demonstrations at the American Society on Aging conferences. Don’t need to try one myself because I’m way past age 65, which is my quibble with your analysis. At 73, I still swim in the fast lane. My friends in their mid-60s are running marathons and riding in long-distance bicycle races. The “aging suit” is more suited to those we know aged 85 and older than it is for this generation’s age 65, and I hope your parents aren’t anywhere near being as physically hampered as the suit made you. Of course, there are people at 65 who experience many of the issues the suit speaks to, and as a designer and blogger on Universal Design and building for aging-in-place (at AFriendlyHouse.com), I preach that we should all be interested in making our homes, neighborhoods and cities supportive of people at all ages and abilities. Nevertheless, the resistance we meet from people of all ages, Baby Boomers especially, to planning for future frailties is not helped when younger people continue to categorize people of 65 as old and frail. They don’t feel old or frail, and they’ll resent your viewing them as such, which will make your job of convincing them to design for future frailty that much more difficult. (How many times have you heard: “Go ahead and back the bathroom wall for grab bars, but we’ll wait until we need them” to have them installed? We’re still fighting the perception that universal design is handicapped design, that a grab bar shouts to the world that one is old or frail, that a curbless shower only belongs in a nursing home, and younger designers extolling the “aging suit” can cause resentment in those of us over age 60 that your generation perceives us as such.) That said, the “aging suit” is an important teaching tool for designers, just as having design students spend time trying to navigate their homes, schools and communities in a wheelchair, or blindfolded, gives them greater insight into how to make the built world more easily navigable. We just need to be conscious of how our portrayals may be interpreted.
    I’ll race you to the other end of the pool — and you won’t have to wear the suit!

    • admin says:

      Lynette – I totally agree… I’m only stating what I was “told” the suit should add to my age. I’m 40, and I also agree it felt more like 85 (at least for eyesight and tactile). My dad just bought at new bike and is riding 20 miles per day again like he did in college, at 63yo, loving every minute. So YES, I hear all you are saying, and you aren’t the only one to provide feedback to the tune of “we’re 60 not 90” etc. I get it, and that’s okay – it’s a good thing to start conversation, and it was a valuable experience none the less as a designer.

  • Donna Cusano says:

    The writer has, with his headline, context and generally sensationalist writing (complete with caps and typos), portrayed everyone aged 65+ as completely impaired and ready for the glue factory. Tell me now, are your parents like this? Perhaps your doctor, business partners or neighbors? You’ve done this early boomer group no favors–many of them are in the job market, so by inference employers will feel completely justified in their discrimination as that person can’t, after all, lift a ream of paper off a closet shelf or move a box. (Like my former 30 year old co-worker with steel rods in her back from a car accident at 25, or another with crippling lupus at 28.)

    It isn’t reality. It’s a blunt ax of a tool to factor in limitations. Many are prevalent in the ‘old-old’ (80+). You completely pass over the disabled and sight/hearing-limited–which can happen at any age. (We are struggling to support Iraq/Afghanistan combat veterans at 25 who have gone from vital, athletic young men and women to struggling with multiple limitations, including cognitive.)

    That being said, there are great arguments for enabling accessible, age-neutral design for all–but it’s lost here. FYI, I have worked in the healthcare technology field since 2006 to facilitate health and safety of older adults and advocate the role of tech in this area for all–you can see my writings at telecareaware.com.

    • admin says:

      Hi Donna – My name is Aaron (“this writer”). I disagree about what AARON portrayed people as… I only stated what THEY the suit designers SAID it would ad to the feeling of my age. I am 40 years old, hence my math. I agree with you, the suit (very much just a baseline and blanket attempt at an experience in age changing) made me feel in eyesight and tactile ability more like 85, while in mobility and range of motion, it didn’t add much more than 5-10 years if I truly had to guess. But you can’t say all of that and get to any point in a normal length blog word count range. Maybe I should have extended my blog to make those points?

      Some of my favorite accessibility clients have been 20, 40, and 4 years old! I agree inclusive design should work better and be attainable for all.

      Sorry about the typos and CAPS issues I apparently have, I’ll add that to my list of things I should do to better myself! Cheers!

  • Mike Good says:

    I love seeing this suit because it must help designers such as yourself create better solutions. Now you have a better feel for what your client may struggle with. When I saw a similar approach used to demonstrate the effects of Alzheimer’s, I decided then that any technology I oversee the design of will require the designers to emulate use by an older adult. Things such as special gloves or glasses that simulate reduced vision are ways to accomplish this. Not doing this is probably a main reason that most of today’s technology fails for older adults – it was never tested under the proper conditions and was designed by able-bodied people.

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