Age Suits as Pace-maker of Progress

Age Simulation Suits or Age Suits are nowadays established tools for the development of new designs and ergonomics. SD&C presents its new top model: The Senior Suit Delta 2. The following article describes the current possibilities of application and the international history of the development of age simulation.

Pic. 1: SD&C Senior Suit Delta 2.

Age Simulation Suits or Age Suits are full body suits with several elements that allow younger people to explore the real life of the elderly when mobility, muscles and eyesight have diminished. The Simulation Suits provide insights into a research field which can be analyzed less costly, faster and in a more global way than only with computer assistance. Through self-experience they create an intuitive understanding for the test person, which is much more impressive and extensive than only to hear the theoretical background. Therefore Age Simulation Suits are used worldwide by work scientists, architects, product designers, engineers, market researchers, politicians, trainers, human resource managers and by many other branches.

Working scientists, for example, are in-terested in the impact of the physical constraints at the age between 50 and 67 on professional activity. Age Simulation Suits deliver fast and accurate results in this area. They were used to demonstrate that elderly should better not drive a car, but the results often were surprisingly good. Only very specific problems such as the difficulty of reversing came up. Power steering, power brakes and automatic transmission make it easier for seniors to drive a car instead of travelling on foot and studies show that the accident rate decreases, at least until the age of 75 [1].

In physically tiresome labour, such as roofer, tiler, bricklayer, fire-fighter and police officer, the physical constraints of elderly people lead to reduced performance and arising hazards. It is therefore important to think about new solutions, such as an internal job rotation to other activities in the same company. Age Simulation Suits can help to identify these activities with changing needs at an early stage and to develop an understanding for the situations of older people within the younger decision makers. The Simulation Suits also help engineers and work scientists to assess the work structure for older people without hav-ing to perform costly test series with seniors. To test the work conditions of the workplaces of elderly, companies have built production lines as wooden models to test with Age Simulation Suits the problematic areas. The difficulties that were found, in the field of filigree assembly work for example, could be therefore changed in time.

With regard to the fact that from the year 2050 about half of the German population will be between 50 and 100 years old, architects and politician are very interested to understand how age restrictions influence the design of buildings, public transport and the ur-ban development. For blind people and wheelchair users there are established rules in the barrier-free design that older people can benefit from. But yet even if the physical constraints of older people are largely determined and there exists a standard to their consideration with the ISO 20282, there is still a lack of corresponding reactions [2]. In a production of the television station SAT.1, German TV star Guildo Horn, pointed out in a public action while using a wheelchair in participation of a SD&C Senior Suit that there is certainly still need of action in designing the signs and tickets of a ticket machine, for example. In other studies with the Age Simulation Suit the labelling of the bell and intercom systems of a house, the accessibility of the front doors or the insufficient illumination were additional problems for the test person. With regard to the interior design of apartments and hotel rooms some cupboards were difficult to see and some bathtubs were veritable traps for senior people. In many cases none of the test persons could turn on the television in the hotel room because the remote control was impossible to handle for them. Floor buildings without elevator are a proven problem for the aging residents. Mayors and town councils of several cities have explored and evaluated potential trouble spots with the Age Simulation Suits of SD&C in order to find solutions to prevent danger zones. They detected for example the need to extend the duration of the yellow traffic lights or to start the green flash blinking one second earlier to reflect the reduced reaction rate of older road users [3]. Until now the implementation of the measures is still missing.

Although the elderly are physically weaker and less agile, they take actively part in life thanks to medical progress. By no means is this group only living in nursing homes, most of them are pensioners travelling to visit their grandchildren or going out for concerts. They are often active in honorary offices and city councils and they cultivate their gardens or perform handicraft work to embellish their homes.

Market researchers confirm that most luxury vacations are booked by elderly and that older people are also those who buy the most expensive cars and the products with the highest quality. Meanwhile tour operators and aircraft manufacturers have tested their products with Age Simulation Suits of SD&C. For the automotive industry for example, the quality of the Age Simulation Suit is a decisive pace of progress that is indicating the demands and showing the innovations that are generated. Tests lead by SD&C in cooperation with the automotive industry point out the various problem areas to both cars and trucks to allow finding solutions for the difficulties of older people as soon as possible.

Siemens found out, that older people do not buy household appliances if they are not sure how to handle them. Therefore the company made great efforts to develop products in their usability labs that are easy to operate with. Through years of research, manuals and guidelines have been created on how products can be accessible for elderly. The usability of Siemens household appliances for older people has been raised to a very good level, such as Stiftung Warentest and international consumer associations confirmed. SD&C now treasures, applies and develops further these guidelines.

The idea of age simulation has its beginnings in the ergonomics department of Siemens. From 1999 “instant aging” was an interesting topic for the engineers and designers to understand the problems of the elderly. The Simulation Suits have proven to be excellent tools to convince executive managers if they were not able to use their own products while wearing the suit. Many new product improvements are nowadays due to Age Simulation Suits.

Another big field of interest for Age Simulation can be found in the training of medical students and (geriatric) nurses. Meanwhile, the self-experience of being old in a Simulation Suit is part of the education in every good training centre. The students may lie down on a bed and try to grab the tools around, press the emergency button, then get up and walk with rollators, manage stairs or unpack and sort drugs. Reading the label of the drug packaging and opening the boxes is often a big problem for the older ones. It is true that some pharmaceutical companies have made tests with Age Simulation Suits, but the regular label, describing the drugs is still very small and broadly spoken, the need for age-appropriate design continues.

montur-von brieden

Pic. 2: German Patent from Dr.Brieden of 2004 [4].

The application spectrum of the Senior Suits in the training sector is a very large one. Also better Hotels train their stuff with the Suits to give them the possibility to really understand the needs of the elderly. As the demographic situation will become more and more important in the future, the hotels personnel needs to be prepared. Finally insurance companies and banks discovered the Age Simulation Suits as a unique way to convince younger people to cover also some money for old age.

 

Categories of Age Simulation

After a first international meeting concerning Age Simulation in the Siemens design department in 1999, a Japanese patent on an Age Simulation Suit came up (see fig. 3). After a first public appearance in Munich in 2004 a German patent has been applied (see fig. 2). Both patents were attempts to conquer a new field of research that still lacked some experience. Both patents were found to be impractical and had no success on the market. Today there are twenty different Age Simulation Suits in the world, several of them in Germany, but many are just copies of the first attempts. The basic ideas seem to be easy to implement: eyeglasses provided with sheets of plastic should decrease the vision, weight vests from sports equipment should simulate the loss of force and orthopaedic collars should reduce the mobility and the flexibility. It seemed to be easy to invent a first Simulation Suit, but producing a good simulation turned out to be very difficult. We could order all existing Simulation Suits along a scale to measure to what amount they create a realistic age simulation or if they are only an imperfect solution. On such a scale, specially developed for comparing Age Simulation Suits, the SD&C Senior Suit Delta 2 would be to place as the most advanced Simulation Suit on the market.

Questions about the achievements of the Age Simulation Suits arise from the previously reported areas of application. SD&C destinguishes three different performance classes: 1) Raising awareness (Alpha), 2) Training (Beta) and 3) Design (Delta). These classes require different positions on the specialization scale.

The Senior Suit Alpha by SD&C is simply used to raise public awareness to interested persons and to explain the physical constraints that elderly people are facing. In this case, the quantitative accuracy of the simulation is not that important if the scope and the direction are right. SD&C makes sure that the intensity is limited. This means that only the healthy and natural aging process is simulated without exaggeration, so that no one is shocked or traumatized by the experience. Blindness, Parkinson tremors, completely numb fingers or a clubfoot for example are diseases that not everybody gets while getting older.

It is therefore important to distinguish between diseases and the normal aging process. In the context of medical educa-tion it can be very useful to simulate the mentioned diseases. That is why there are corresponding supplementary deals. With the Simulation Suit Beta by SD&C the vision and the hearing is simulated more accurately. The visual blurring is simulated with a flip-up visor with two different aging steps of twenty and forty years. The hearing impairment is linearly adjustable by a Tinnitus that is variable in the volume. Removable weights in the vest allow nine graduations of loss of power and the pressure sleeves for the joints can be variably applied.

Japanese Patent of 2002

Pic. 3: Japanese Patent of 2002.

Furthermore the Delta model allows also adjusting the weights on the extremities. For each side of the arms and legs nine levels are adjustable. The weights on arms and legs as well as the pressure sleeves for the joints can be placed very accurately and stay in the intended position due to additional velcro strips in this model. Even with skidding movements, as they occur in some activities, the weights and pressure sleeves don’t fall off. Measuring devices for medical and ergonomic studies can be attached in the pockets of the suit. Openings for cables are available as well.

In addition to the distinction between Age Simulation Suits along a specialization axis, there exists the distinction between Modular and Integral Simulation Suits. With Modular Age Suits the simulation elements can be individually placed on the body, with Integral Simulators the strength- and mobility reducing elements are incorporated in one single body suit (overall). The disadvantage of Integral Suits is the fact that the simulation elements are likely to be in the wrong places, because of different body proportions. The SD&C Senior Suit Delta 2 combines the advantages of the Modular and the Integral Suit. On one hand, the simulation elements can be placed directly at the right place on the body. On the other hand, the body suit represents a fastening system that allows attaching the elements as it is not possible with Modular Suits. In addition to that, stiffening elements are incorporated in the jumpsuit.

 

Genetic aging and ergonomic performance curves

The human body consists of 220 different types of cells that create organs like the muscles, eyes and ears. Their ergonomically-related performance can be measured. The cells and organs are subject to different aging processes. Some cells are replaced every few days whereas whole organs grow slowly and can only partly be replaced. Cellular aging depends on a genetic control of life, whereas the performance of an organ depends not only on the age but also on the training and the wear and tear. The average performance of eyes, ears and muscles during the aging process is explored and the age simulation is based on these average experiences, as they are referenced in ISO 20282 [2].

The age simulation with the suits of SD&C leads from one point of the performance curve from the actual age to another which is 20 or 40 years away (see fig. 4). In the exploration of design problems it is often sufficient to estimate the range of fluctuation in the target population to make problems visible. Very often the solution to a problem is to automate a function, so that accurate values are not even necessary. In other cases, such as determining the maximum shelf heights for the elderly for example, we would like to know exactly what per-centage of the population at a certain age can reach that specific height. In such cases we can distinguish necessary from unnecessary data collection with the help of Age Simulation and thus save costs through the preliminary tests. High quality simulation neither trivializes problems nor exaggerates them. It is particularly advantageous to test with the Simulation Suits the possi-bilities and feasibility of combined gripping- and visual performances in the old age. With the tests we get significant results for conditions that are not fully explored yet. The Simula-tion Suit by SD&C obtains an aging of about 40 years, which means that 20 to 40 years old test persons can simulate the age of 60 to 80.

 

Simulation of the aging of vision

The aging of vision is a very complex process and involves a number of ergonomically related functions.

Patent of SD&C for an age simulation suit

Pic. 4: Patent of SD&C for an age simulation suit, Germany 2010.

The main function is 1) the change in visual acuity, which becomes in most cases presbyopia. Most elderly need glasses for reading and recognizing details at close range. Already at a young age the process can be advanced and glasses are required. At the age of 50 years nearly every adult needs reading glasses. Other aging factors are 2) an altered colour vision, 3) an increased brightness is required, 4) a restriction of peripheral vision and 5) in many cases we can observe a slight macular degeneration.

The simulation of optics of the SD&C Senior Suit Delta 2 is currently the only simulation optics in the world which is able to simulate the visual acuity aging with specially cut glass. It is possible to choose between two different stages (twenty and forty years) of visual aging. Most age simulation glasses on the market simulate the aging with a diffusion layer or partially transparent occlusive films. These conditions correspond rather to the symptoms of the so-called “cataract” (corneal opacity) than to the normal aging process. The simulation of optics by SD&C creates very realistic results for the test person. It shows what will happen with their eyesight in about 40 years.

The possibility to choose between the aging of 20 and 40 years by folding the visor of the simulation optics resulted from practical experiences. The immediate aging of vision led in some cases to dizziness and nausea. Some test persons had to adapt slowly and needed a familiarization period of a few minutes to tolerate the change. In addition to that, the lower level that simulates a change of 20 years is a realistic experience for older people who do not expect such strong deteriorations anymore.

 

The simulation of reduced hearing and sense of touch

Roughly similar to eyesight, the hearing and the sense of touch change in older age. The SD&C Senior Suit Delta simulates the limited sense of touch with gloves and the reduction of hearing with electronic ear capsules. As one third of older people have some kind of tinnitus, a buzzing sound was installed in the ear capsules of the Senior Suit. This sound can be changed in the volume or turned off via a rotary knob. With the fully turn up tinnitus sound it is nearly impossible to follow discussions in the surroundings. The simulation of hearing less well is widely variable over the whole range of understanding to total deafness. The speech intelligibility in certain situations can now be measured and directly compared by the intensity of adjustment.

 

The simulation of reduced power

The muscular force of man takes over the age a different course than the power of the sense organs. It rises to a maximum at the age of about 30 years, then the average value decreases continuously. At the age of 70 people have only about half as much power available. Some Simulation Suits tried to simulate the lost power by elastic elements (see Fig. 2 and 3), but the correct positioning of the elements on different bodies proved very difficult. Under tension the gums tend to snatch from the provided positions and the free belts often got caught on door handles which was quiet dangerous for the test persons. Therefore most of the Simulation Suits simulate the relentless power with fitting additional weights close to the body. With SD&C Senior Suit Delta 2 the elements can be positioned correctly and stable to the individual body positions.

The SD&C Senior Suit Delta 2 with the variable weights in the vest and extremities allows adapting to weaker test persons and their individual constitution. That is why it is also possible for teenagers to try the Senior Suit; the simulation can be adapted to the non-linear shape of the force in the aging process. For a fifteen year old teenager for example, the aging of 20 years would not mean a loss of power, but a power increase and only at an advanced age his strength will then be again fallen to the age of a fifteen year old.

 

The simulation of mobility restrictions

The increasing restrictions on the gripping areas while standing or sitting due to the lower mobility are the most impressive results in the studies with elderly and have already led to many adjustments in everyday life. Age Simulation Suits can give a very detailed and intuitive picture of the limitations in old age to the test person. The first Simulation Suits simulated the movement restrictions of the joints with orthotics that limited the opening angle. Studies on seniors however showed that the reduction of the opening angle in the arm and leg joints is rather insignificant and that an evenly limitation over the entire range of motion can rather be reached by arteriosclerotic changes. The SD&C Senior Suits simulate therefore an appropriate articulation change with cuffs that make it more difficult to move. In addition to that, the jumpsuit is designed to make it difficult to lift the arms.

 

Explosion picture of the SD&C Senior Suit Delta

Pic. 5: The parts of the SD&C Senior Suit Delta.

Cognitive factors

Ergonomically relevant are also the cognitive changes during the aging process. It is important to distinguish the liquid from the crystalline intelli-gent changes. Among the first group is count a significant change in the reaction rate. In situation where twenty years old people need 200 msec. to re-act, some elderly need up to 800 msec.. On average women are a little more slowly than man regarding to the reaction time. The picture looks better regarding the crystalline intelligence. If appliance manufacturers took into account the fact that older people may think in an “old-fashioned way” the participation of older people in everyday life would be no problem [5]. If elderly persons, especially artists and writers, stay mentally trained, they can continue to be brilliant at higher age and to become even better.

Wearing the simulation components results in secondary cognitive effects such as reduced balance and coordination or more prudence. Since the crystalline intelligence can be maintained in old age, a healthy aging process that might be positive for everyone is simulated by the Age Simulation Suit. The fact that everyone wants to grow older in the way that is represented with the Simulation Suit may be one factor to explain the great popularity of this concept.

 

Footnotes

[1] B. Kraus und H.J. Kaiser: Weniger Unfälle bei älteren Autofahrern. Institut für Psychogerontologie der Universität Erlangen, 2008.

[2] ISO 20282: Ease of Operation of Everyday Products. ISO Genf, 2007.

[3] R. Schoeffel: Ampel-Gelbphasen zu kurz für ältere PKW-Fahrer. Fachzeitschrift für Polizei- und Verkehrsmanagement, 01/2012.

[4] Gebrauchsmuster und Patent DE 102 33 706 A1 von Fr. Dr. Brieden aus Hilden 2004.

[5] R. Schoeffel: Human-friendly products. ISO Focus Magazin, ISO Genf, Volume 4, No 9, 2007.

 

Author

Dipl.-Psych. Dr. rer. nat. Roland Schoeffel

SD&C GmbH (https://www.sdxc.de)

Swidmutstr. 5

85301 Schweitenkirchen

Tel. +49 700-2014 2014

E-Mail: info@sdxc.de

 

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