I tried on a suit that simulates being an 85 year-old, and it totally changed how I view aging
On Tuesday, without a peep of complaint, she walked the five long avenue blocks from Radio City Music Hall to my apartment in midtown.
Then she rode the 4 train up to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, found her seat, watched the commencement ceremony, and rode the train back down to the restaurant where our family got lunch, before walking some more.I gave her credit at the time, but it wasn't until a few days ago that I finally realized what an accomplishment it was.
I recently visited the Liberty Science Center in New Jersey to check out the Genworth Aging Experience, a new exhibit from Applied Minds that uses a high-tech exoskeleton to let people feel what life is like at 85 years old.
The idea behind the project, explains Bran Ferren, the company's co-founder, is to start a dialogue about the perils of aging, which largely go undiscussed.
In front of a crowd of two dozen kids and their parents, Ferren gives me tunnel vision. I'm wearing a special helmet and Oculus Rift virtual reality goggles, and the picture I see goes cloudy. I see his face, but the edges are gray.
Next, he gives me macular degeneration - the cloudiness is now a big gray spot right in the middle of my vision. Already I'm grateful to be young and spry.
After setting the microphone in my helmet to a slight delay, so that everything I said hit my own ears slightly later, Ferren effectively gave me dysphasia. It's a condition that causes people's coherent thoughts to come out slurred and garbled. As I happily sang along to "Mary Had A Little Lamb," thinking all was fine, the audience's laughter told me otherwise.
"You might say, 'Oh, he's faking it!'" Ferren says. "Trust me, he's not."
It hit me at that moment just how important an exhibit like the Genworth Aging Experience really is. For the first time in history, people 65 years and older now outnumber children 5 and younger around the world. Without a clear understanding of how the world's demographics are shifting, we can't fully prepare for the change or appreciate its effects once it happens. Stepping into a suit that mimics the real thing might spur to action decades ahead of time.
Now I feel like I have a better sense of the experience of being elderly. It's not a perfect replication of what it's like, but it comes much closer - and delivers a much more visceral experience - than any statistics could.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have a phone call to make and some very belated thanks to give.