Age 40 years in 5 minutes

Ageing can bring benefits, however the physical side of ageing, our impaired ability to experience the world and becoming frail is something that most of us don’t look forward to. Now there is an opportunity to experience the full magnitude of what it feels like to be old by donning an ageing simulation suit. The younger generation can now gain an insight into how it feels to be 70, suffer vision, balance and/or hearing problems - all thanks to the suit.

Two ageing simulators at the Getafe hospital, are being used to allow doctors to share how the elderly feel with others.  The ageing suits are known as GERT suits, short for GERontologic Test, and they can simulate a variety of frequently encountered age-related impairments. Volunteers are able to experience the full physiological impact of ageing associated impairment. Earmuffs mimic impaired hearing and special glasses alter the perception of colour, restrict visual field and blur vision. In addition, movement is restrained with a collar and a 4 kg vest that exerts pressure on the spine and serves to give the feeling of weaker muscles. As a result, everyday tasks such as walking or climbing a flight of stairs, any movement in general, will cause instability and require greater effort. The suits also have gloves that use small electric shocks to replicate hand trembling and difficulty catching and holding objects. Suddenly, trying to get that cup of coffee suddenly seems fraught with difficulty. 

One volunteer, Eva Lopez, is 48 year-old and used to walking fast. When wearing the suit she felt dizzy, veered to the sides when walking and adopted an unstable gait. She reported experiencing a ‘tremendous feeling’ of being physically overwhelmed. Unlike the elderly, volunteers can make a miraculous recovery (back to their current age and state of health) within a few minutes – just by taking the suit off. Dr Stefan Walter and Dr Marta Checa will be road-testing the scheme across Madrid before taking the suits into other European cities. Videos of the challenges faced by volunteers have been posted by the Spanish newspaper, El Pais. Both Stefan and Marta have spoken on TV and Cadena de Ondas Populares Españolas ("People's Radiowaves of Spain Network"). 

The research team, who are part of the Frailomic Initiative - a large scale European funded program, are working towards promoting healthy ageing in our increasingly older population. With life expectancies increasing, and with old age being associated with illness the intention of the research is to help delay the point at which we start to live with limitations and dependency. This aspect of the project aims to provide an opportunity for anyone to improve their understanding of the passage of time and its effects on the physical aspects of aging. By providing a transitory attack on the senses and give insight into the restrictions of ageing and age-related illness, the geriatric team at the Getafe hospital are hoping to highlight the importance of healthy ageing. 

KD VIII N7 Glowing