It's probably true of most people that they don't want to get old. It's kinda sad, but such is our culture that it prizes youth above all else and getting old is seen, not as a necessary stage of life, but something to dread. And it's not entirely without reason.
Getting old means we're knocking on heaven's door and so it means our bodies don't function as well as they used too. We're more susceptible to diseases and ailments of both mind and body. And while we may not want to grow old we will—but we don't really have much insight, from a subjective perspective, of what it feels like. Not until we get there ourselves anyway.
Journalist for the Atlantic James Hamblin tried on a specially built instant-aging exoskeleton, called the Genworth R70i Age Simulator Suit, that wants to change that by mimicing the experience of being 75 years old. It was invented by artist and engineer Bran Ferren and simulates effects like cataracts, arthritis, and hearing loss. Ailments that can often be debilitating for the elderly
Ferren created the suit in partnership with insurance company Genworth who want to use it as an education tool, helping people understand what happens to the human body when you age. Not only preparing them for what's ahead, but also helping them to be more sympathetic to those who suffer from these conditions in their twilight years.
"This project is really about, how can we allow someone, first-person, to experience what it’s like to get older—reversibly—in a matter of minutes rather than decade." Ferren has said.
Wil Futon, another journalist who has tried the suit, wrote the following for Supercompressor about what donning it did to his body. And it doesn't sound pleasant:
First, came the hearing loss. I have myriad memories of my Grandmother, who passed away at a fiesty 98, struggling with her hearing for the final years of her life. As I experienced sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus (ringing of the ears) in my high-powered headphones, I finally understood how difficult it was for people with subpar hearing to go about their daily routine. The voices were barely audible, and the ringing in my eardrums made me feel like I just left a Who concert, circa ‘75. It was unbearable, to be honest. I felt pain, for every time I was frustrated by my Grandma asking me to repeat something, or choosing not to join in conversations.
Perhaps the biggest shocker of the whole experience was my rendezvous with aphasia: a cognitive hearing disability that’s almost akin to dyslexia of the mouth. I was told to recite “Mary had a little lamb” out loud. It came out “Marrrrrry, Mary had. Had. Ahhhhh. Little. Little. Had a. Little. Lamb.” My own voice was looped and played back a split second after I was supposed to be hearing it, simulating the debilitating condition. I sounded like I was 12 beers deep and had earplugs on, and there was nothing I could do to fix it. Combined with the ringing and hearing loss, I was cut off from the world around me. “Often times, people with these kinds of problems don’t even want to leave the house,” Ferren said, “it causes them to withdraw...and can you blame them?”