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High-Tech Suit Makes You Feel Old

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The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that one in every eight persons in the United States are age 65 or older. In 2009, there were 39.6 million elderly people in America, but estimates show that this number will nearly double to 72.1 million by 2030. In 2030, older Americans will account for 19 percent of the population.

That’s a significant portion of the population and a pool of people that have special medical and health needs based on their age. So researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed a high-tech aging suit with intentions of helping product designers prepare the world for our aging nation.

What they’ve dubbed as AGNES -- Age Gain Now Empathy System -- places the wearer in the shoes of a person in their 70s suffering from advanced diabetes and osteoarthritis.

"It's meant to create an 'aha!' moment for the wearer, where they understand what it's like to be old, and to help them understand what needs to be done for a product or service to make it more user-friendly for an aging population," said Joseph Coughlin, one of the suit's creators and the founder and director of MIT's AgeLab, a multi-disciplinary research program created to study the behavior and quality of life of people 45 and older.

The suit includes plastic bands that restrict movement, glasses that make vision dull and yellowed, shoes that throw the wearer off balance, harnesses that make the body hunch over, and gloves that make fingers clumsy and awkward.

“AGNES is part of an overall design trend focused on making the world easier for everyone to navigate through, but particularly people whose mobility or senses have been dulled by age,” according to president and chief executive of a New York City geriatric center, Daniel Reingold.

The researchers at MIT first developed the AGNES suit in 2005 but have since been making upgrades and adjustments. Today’s version, AGNES 2.0, is a further refined version of the first but an even more advanced version is already in the works. The next generation of the AGNES suit will contain more sensors and be better able to run objective data.

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