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‘Old-age suit’ mimics difficulties for elderly

If you want to feel way older than you are, give Agnes a call. She’s guaranteed to make you feel bent and creaky before your time.

“Agnes” is an acronym for “Age Gain Now Empathy System,” a head-to-toe “old-age suit” developed by engineers at MIT’s AgeLab. Using Dickies coveralls as a base, the suits feature bungee-cord-like bands that prevent full extension of limbs, braces that make it harder to move them, shoes that impede balance and glasses that blur the fine print. It makes anyone feel like he or she has the body of the average 75-year-old.

Used first by engineers in their mid-20s, the adjustable suits are now being tried out by corporate designers, product developers and even sales executives who want to understand the difficulties of opening a jar, maneuvering through a store or just walking down the street when you have a dowager’s hump, diabetes or arthritis.

“Most people are so fatigued after five minutes of wearing one that they have to fight the urge to sit down,” said Angelina Gennis, the MIT research associate in charge of Agnes management.

“One guy tried to open a box of his own company’s cake mix and said, ‘This is too hard, I’ll just buy a ready-made one.’ It really allows you to pick up on things that older adults have just learned to cope with over time.”

Agnes also provides a public service, Gennis said, by persuading some of her wearers to improve their health habits while they’re young.

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