In the corner of a booth at the BIO International Convention in Boston sat a mysterious suit with an odd helmet.
The booth in question belonged to Bayer, the German drugmaker and chemical giant. And the suit wasn’t for a virtual reality demo or for show – it was to simulate how it might feel to be 80 years old.
The idea behind the suit was to give perspective on the growing ageing population, and the challenges that come with that, such as a higher risk of heart disease.
As a fit (though potentially over-caffeinated) 25-year-old, I figured it might be worth taking a spin in the “ageing” suit to see how it made me feel.
The suit was bulky and weighted to give me the impression of what it’d be like to carry around my mortal coil into old age.
The suit also came with a helmet, which darkened my field of vision. I also took my glasses off, which added to the confusion. It took a team of helpers to get me suited up.
At some point, a crowd had gathered to figure out why I was wearing the set-up, adding to how vulnerable I felt. On my hands, the helpers put gloves that split up my ring and pinky from my middle and pointer fingers, so I was stuck in a Vulcan salute.
From my head to my feet, I was all decked out.
As one of my tests in the suit, I was asked to open a pill box. That was easy enough, I thought. But then I was asked to pick up an individual pill. I ended up accidentally with three in my hand.
Then I tried to sit down and stand back up. I’d been lugging around a backpack throughout the day so this part wasn’t quite as difficult, though it did feel odd with the different weight distribution.
Moving around was trickier with weighted feet. My arms had a smaller range of motion, which felt odd as well.
The verdict: I’m not sure I felt exactly like I’d aged a half a century, but the experience definitely gave me some perspective. Not having a full range of motion in my head and hands made me uncomfortable. Picking up pills from a pillbox was hard enough, I couldn’t imagine wearing the suit all day and trying to perform more complicated tasks like cooking or driving. It was certainly a relief to take it off after a few minutes and return to my 25-year-old life.
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