One out of every four 65-year-olds in the United States today will live past 90 years old. One out of 10 will get past 95.
So it’s high time we all start learning how to change our harmful habits earlier in life in order to be able to enjoy those ever riper years—this is the message that the Age Lab at MIT is trying to send with its brand-new aging empathy suit called Agnes (short for "Age Gain Now Empathy System").
We can think of the suit as an old-age emulator that allows young people to "walk in a person’s shoes," as the director of the lab, Joseph Coughlin, put it to the BBC. It can give one the luxury of rehearsing for the physical experiences of old age for years before they set in—enough time, hopefully, so that more of us can learn how to handle them better.
Agnes does this through an ingenious a system of weights and constraints which slow people down and imitate the challenges of various chronic illnesses associated with old age—such as arthritis and low vision.
"[Aging] depends both on a little bit of genetics—you can blame your parents for about one third—but two thirds is your diet and your lifestyle," Coughlin says. "That’s part of what Agnes teaches us—if your treat yourself well and exercise and eat well in youth, then you’ll have more reserve to carry you through the days that you become older and lose muscle mass."
Many of us would do well to pay attention to such lessons: The average senior citizen in good health, according to the National Council on Aging, pays about $311 per month in health-related costs, a number that jumps another $200 for those in worse health.