Whether it’s offering my seat on the train, helping to grab a jar from a high shelf or packing a frail woman’s shopping into her car, I have always stood by the principle ‘respect your elders’. I’m by no means perfect. At the age of 26, my patience does wear thin if you’re a bit slow on your feet during rush hour.
As for aches and pains? I like to think I’m sympathetic, but I’ve never fully experienced the horrors of stiff joints, hand tremors and diminishing sight that my grandparents tell me about. So when I got the chance to try an age suit developed by Ford, I was keen to get a small insight into what it feels like to be an OAP.
Watch the video below to see how I fared.
What is the Third Age Suit?
Ford developed its first Third Age Suit about 20 years ago as a way to better understand the needs of older drivers. The technology has helped the automobile giant evolve many features, from different controls to push-button start to get the car going – which benefit all drivers now.
The suit is now in its third generation and can replicate nerve system degeneration using special gloves equipped with an electronic tremor generator. Special goggles include lenses that can replicate visual impairments caused by different eye diseases.
Of course, not everyone in later life suffers from all these problems at once – or at all - but it gives a good indication of what each is like.
This exercise is part of Ford’s ‘unlearn’ campaign – to let go of what you know and look at life from a different angle.
Time to get the age suit on…
There are about a dozen different pieces to the suit, starting with a foot weight which goes on one foot to simulate muscle degeneration.
Knee orthoses strap around your legs to restrict joint movement, followed by a back restraint and weight vest to make bending incredibly difficult. At this point, I’m already feeling pretty weighed down… but there’s more.
Orthoses for the elbows really tighten arm movement, one pair of gloves removes sensitivity from my hands, another pair of gloves makes it hard to clench objects, and a hand attachment vibrates like a hand tremor.
Finally, to my head area - a bandage around the neck and earmuffs designed to block high-pitched sounds.
There’s a choice of eye goggles that replicate five different conditions, so I go for cataracts. I’m now ready to set off for my first walk in my new body, and I’m already sweating and struggling for breath…
And, we’re off…
I head to London’s busy Southbank, which is full of people and joggers who you dare not block – arguably some of the most impatient people on the planet.
This entire suit is extremely bulky and all my senses feel cut off. I just about make it through a revolving door to get outside, and I can barely make out a few familiar blurs which are, in fact, the two people accompanying me.
Already, my back is really starting to ache, staying upright is a difficult feat too, and that weight on my right foot is making me hobble a lot. It’s hard to see – people are mostly faint flickers rushing past.
I trek across to a coffee stand to order a drink and some mini donuts. Faced with the daunting prospect of counting money with this hand tremor, I resort to handing out a £10 note. I need some sugar and a stick but there’s no way I can pick them up myself, so I ask the person behind me to grab some for me. This hand tremor is just too much to carry my coffee, so I hold it all against my chest.
Now I can sit down - super easy, right? No, not at all, in fact. I drop myself down on to a bench and tuck into the donuts, but once again, the tremor is a problem and the gloves are making it hard to feel anything I touch.
With these tight joints it’s a strain to bring the food to my mouth. Naturally, I drop one and the pigeons rejoice. I then start to panic a little inside - is this what it’s really like? Have I really underestimated my grandparents’ struggles this much?
To stand up I have to ask a pair of passers-by to give me a hand.
Next I encounter stairs. I take my time on each step, really pulling each leg up and panting beyond belief, and my legs are just as cumbersome going back down the steps.
The final test is my shoelaces. Learning as a child is tough, but as an adult it’s painfully frustrating to know how to do your laces but your body won’t let you. I try. I try again before asking my companion to tie them for me.
Back to reality
I’m not in the best of shape for a 26-year-old, but as I take each layer of the suit off, I begin to feel light, and I actually appreciate my body’s nimbleness for the first time ever.
I’m truly stunned by how difficult it is to be in an older person’s body. The suit doesn’t necessarily represent every OAP, but it certainly paints a vivid picture of what mobility issues are like.
In this short space of time, it’s really changed the way I see things. I feel so much more sympathy for our older generation now. We can all do so much more, and I’ll be more mindful in future.
To find out more about unlearning, visit Ford’s website.