What if you could step into the body of a person 20, 30 or 40 years older than you? What would it feel like?
Architects at one Roanoke firm found out. You see they tried on what's called the Third Age Suit. It was designed in Europe and it's meant to allow a person to feel the ailments of old age.
The socks have something in them that makes the wearer feel what it's like to have bunions and corns. "It's very uncomfortable so it hurts. It's on the balls of your feet," said architect Allen Hale with SFCS in Roanoke.
That makes each step painful, Hale said. The Third Age Suit is designed to limit mobility in the arms, and hips which are also things that people experience with aging. It makes simply walking not so simple.
"I barely get one foot and you just can't get somewhere in a hurry," Hale explained. "Every time I try to accelerate or move any faster the hip restrains me."
The suit also has special glasses to mimic cataracts and ear phones to limit hearing.
Hale even had trouble sitting down in a chair. "I can't grab both arms at the same time. I'm trying my best," he said. Hale was able to eventually ease himself into the chair, but he can't reach the phone from his seat. He can't get up. He can't even slide up in his chair. "No way. I need help," Hale said.
The suit isn't just an interesting way to experience aging it's meant to help architects including Hale with SFCS in Roanoke, better design living spaces for seniors. "So us trying to learn these things I think it gives us a better senstitivy
to prepare spaces," Hale said.
Hale now knows firsthand how tough steps are and how crucial a hand rail can be to a senior citizen with limited mobility. He also knows the psychological feelings an older person may experience. One of those is the fear that they will be stuck or that they can't do a simple task.
Jacqueline Jeffrey's husband designed the suit in the United Kingdom. She said it's the small things in design that make a difference in a person's life, such as knobs on bathroom doors or hand rails that are not placed out of reach.
"Tiny little knobs or buttons (on bathroom doors) that you had to twist and if you have arthritis in your hands you might be lucky the first time and lock yourself in, but then you couldn't get yourself out," Jefferey said.
"The tiniest little design alteration can make the difference to someone's life whether they can achieve or not achieve a simple task," she said.
Jeffrey was in Roanoke to show the suit to architects at a conference on designing spaces for senior living. This is the first time the company Mobilistrictor, Third Age Suit has brought its new product to the United States.