MIT IDM Students Try Out AGNES

by Adam Felts

The AgeLab’s AGNES took a trip across the MIT campus to provide students a taste of life in older age. AgeLab researchers Taylor Patskanick, Lexi Balmuth, Lauren Cerino, and Sophia Ashebir demonstrated and deployed AGNES for the first-year cohort of MIT’s Integrated Design and Management program.

AGNES, the Age Gain Now Empathy System, is a suit designed to simulate limitations in mobility and sensation associated with living in older age.

The IDM students were invited to try components of the suit – gloves to reduce tactile sensation and dexterity and goggles to simulate vision impairment – and engage in tasks such as opening medicine bottles and inserting batteries into hearing aids. These are tasks that, for some older adults, may be challenging in ways that a younger designer might overlook.

Later, two students were fully outfitted in AGNES and assigned to complete tasks around campus, with the rest of the cohort following and taking notes. The AGNES-wearing participants reported on how it felt to wear the suit and what activities they experienced differently. At the end of the session, the IDM cohort debriefed on what they had learned from their temporary experiences of older age.

AGNES is used with engineers, designers, and professionals to help them develop a better understand of the experiences of older adults, with the aim of designing better products, services, and experiences for older consumers.

AGNES has appeared on YouTube, a PBS documentary, and is soon to be featured in a documentary called Limitless, starring Chris Hemsworth and directed by Darren Aronofsky.

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About the Author

Photo of Adam Felts
Adam Felts

Adam Felts is a researcher and writer at the MIT AgeLab. Currently he is involved in research on the experiences of family caregivers and the future of financial advice. He also manages the AgeLab blog and newsletter. He received his Master's in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Boston University in 2014 and his Master's of Theological Studies from Boston University in 2019.

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