What does it feel like to be 'old'?
An ‘age man suit’ has been designed to make future doctors aware of older people's needs.
Designed by Rachel Eckardt, a senior physician at Berlin's Evangelical Geriatrics Centre (EGZB), the suit features ear-protectors that stifle hearing, a yellow visor that blurs eyesight making it hard to distinguish colours, knee and elbow pads which stiffen the joints, a Kevlar-jacket-style vest which presses uncomfortably against the chest and padded gloves.
The suit reportedly makes walking up a flight of stairs difficult, leaving a person breathless and tired. Trying to remove tablets from a blister pack is also described as a “fumbling disaster” and the heaviness, coupled with the stifled hearing and vision, is disorienting.
“My aim is to turn young energetic people into slow, creaking beings, temporarily at least. That way they will, I hope, develop a feeling for what it's like to be old,” Ms Eckardt said.
Her aim was to sensitise a “whole new generation” of doctors to the medical and social needs of Germany's fastest-growing population group and argues there was a “huge disconnect” between large sections of the medical profession and their elderly patients, as well as a desperate lack of doctors willing to go into geriatric medicine.
“Rather than a PowerPoint presentation, this is the best way of giving them a real idea of what it's like to be old - that is, 75 and upwards - and only once we have their empathy can we really begin to win students round to becoming interested in old people as patients,” she explained.
“Maybe then they will consider a career in geriatrics, which until now has fought for recognition alongside other fields of medicine that are considered to be more exciting.”
The suit was developed together with the Saarbrucken-based Meyer-Hentschel Institute, which supports research into so-called “senior friendly” products for the over-60s.
The institute has put the suit - also known as the age explorer - to use in other fields such as the household appliance and gastronomic industries. It hopes to sensitise a society that has done very little to prepare itself for a demographic time bomb that is more acute in Germany than almost anywhere else in the world, apart from Japan and Monaco.