Many of us are guilty of this: getting annoyed with old people for being too slow, too "time-consuming."
What if we were able to experience, even for a brief while, how it actually feels to be an old person? To see the world through their eyes, to walk as they walk, to talk as they talk? How will that affect us?
A device has been invented to help us answer that last question. It's called the Genworth R7Oi Aging Suit. This "suit", once worn, adds decades to the wearer's body, turning a healthy, energetic youngster into an enfeebled 85-year-old in no time.
The suit is actually a robotic exoskeleton that is strapped on to the user's arms and legs, along with a specialized helmet that covers their eyes and ears. Once all of these are in place, the user is gradually introduced to a simulated environment where they can experience for themselves, with excruciating clarity, the various physical issues faced by old people.
According to a Live Science report, insurance firm Genworth had a "sensitivity training" for its employees on how to interact with elderly customers. In order to better train their employees, someone suggested they come up with an "immersive" training experience. Genworth got in touch with Applied Minds, a design, R&D and engineering company. Applied Minds took about four months to come up with the aging suit.
The main purpose of this suit was to create empathy, for younger people to know what it was like to be in the shoes of their grandparents.
Bran Ferren, co-founder and chief creative officer of Applied Minds, hopes that the aging suit will lead to more conversations about old age -- a subject people generally don't want to talk about.
"We view old people as annoying and ornery. Well, if you felt like that all day long, you might be ornery too."
Then the suit goes on to display how old people see, or rather, have trouble seeing. Using the camera technology inside the helmet, the suit wearer's vision is suitably manipulated to help them experience first-hand what end-stage glaucoma feels like, or how cataracts totally blur elderly people's vision.
Not only the vision, hearing is impacted with old age too. The aging suit simulates a condition called tinnitus, a relentless ringing sound in the ears. And if this was not enough, there is presbycusis, the gradual loss of hearing as one grows older.
Another big casualty of old age is mobility. Everything -- each and every tiny movement -- becomes slow as we age. The aging suit simulates this condition by "stiffening" the user's hips and knees, turning a casual, simple walk into a tough task demanding incredible patience and willpower.
All these experiences come together to give the suit wearer an incredible insight into what it really means to be old, changing their outlook in profound ways.
Paul Hoffman, president of Jersey City's Liberty Science Center, where the aging suit was exhibited recently, told The Guardian that people who wore the aging suit during live demos were affected deeply by it.
"Adults often call their parents after these demonstrations. Aging is a hard conversation for children to have with their parents and grandparents and vice versa."
You think old people are weirdos but then you understand that they don't see you and they can't hear you. I'm going to give them more time to understand what to do. I'll say, 'Can you please move?' Instead of, 'Get out of the way!'"