Agnes the ageing suit

James Crabtree

As the world’s population gets older, how are we going to manage? Innovative approaches are being developed at the MIT Age Lab

James Crabtree tries on the Agnes ageing suit

James Crabtree climbs into the Agnes ageing suit, designed to mimic the physical restrictions of old age. A plastic inner harness and elastic bands attached to the feet and hands imitate the movement limitations created by spinal problems, while foam wrist, knee and neck pads simulate the symptoms of arthritis. First constructed in 2005 by a team of MIT researchers with backgrounds in psychology, ergonomics and exercise physiology, the suit has been used by companies as diverse as Siemens, Daimler and General Mills. The latter experimented with it to understand, for instance, the difficulties elderly consumers face when opening cereal boxes

It was only after a couple of hours in the suit that it hit me. I was exhausted. Putting it on hadn’t been that hard, although, standing in a windowless classroom in Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, I did need help from a researcher to hand over the components. First came the industrial blue overalls. Then the stiff foam knee and elbow restraints, bulked-up versions of those white tubes you wear to recover from a sprained ankle or wrist. Then a series of elastic straps and wires, designed to make it difficult to stretch up, or bend down.

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