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MIT body suit simulates aging

Age Gain Now Empathy System, AGNES, from MIT AgeLab
Age Gain Now Empathy System, AGNES, from MIT AgeLab
Globe file photo

With the U.S. population older than ever, it is a wonder that restaurants are not brighter, fonts bigger, store shelving lower, bottle tops easier to open. Bodies change as the aging process continues. Some things in the world of marketing and merchandising do not necessary change in response. While Boomers and older continue to be in the largest numbers, most marketing still targets youth and young adults, with a few notable exceptions, of course, such as a few life insurance companies, banks and personal care ads. More and more web sites do offer the ability to change font size in a nod to the largest growth segment using the internet, people over the age of 60.

Last year, AGNES appeared on the scene. The MIT AgeLab released its "Age Gain Now Empathy System," a suit designed to simulate what it is like to be somewhere around age 75. The hope is that younger engineers designing products, marketers, students and researchers will don the navy blue space-suit like garb to feel the experience of reduced flexibility and muscle strength, slower motor function, and low vision often associated with aging, allowing them to gain empathy. Ultimately, the expectation is that this higher degree of understanding will influence product design and how the market reacts to older people.

Complete with a helmet, earplugs and goggles to impair hearing and vision, the suit also sports bungee cords to restrict movement, foam-padded shoes to affect balance,  a double layer of rubber gloves to limit tactile sensation and a neck brace to limit head motion. Used already to influence retailers and automobile manufacturers, AGNES is gaining popularity with home designers and city planners. Students and researchers are in the process of examining what they call “friction points” in transportation systems. ADA requirements ensure basic accessibility, but most systems still have “micro-barriers” that make streets difficult to navigate and public transportation undesirable for older people. Their findings will influence city planners and transit operators in ways that go beyond basic accessibility.

Watch AGNES in a grocery store.

Seth Godin riffs a bit on marketing to elders.

Among the many demographic studies on the aging population in Denver, the one led by Rose Foundation, focusing on people between the ages of 55 and 64, underscored recent findings that Colorado has one of the largest Boomer populations in the country and most of that population is centered in metro Denver. As the population changes here, consumers will watch for signs that city planners, restaurants and retailers are reaching out to them.

Kathryn writes and speaks on aging, caregiving, disabilities, mobility and independence.  Contact for inquiries and to suggest future topics.  Select "subscribe" above to receive Kathryn's articles on a regular basis. 



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