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Age simulation suit helps people in Sandwich understand being elderly

By Eleanor Perkins

An age simulation suit which mimics some of the troubles faced by elderly people and those with dementia has been tried out by people in Sandwich.

The Co-op’s trading manager James Bridger, Age Concern volunteer Andy Styles and Mercury reporter Eleanor Perkins were among the first in Kent to wear it, yesterday.

They were given a pin number to remember and a shopping list and sent out onto Co-op’s shop floor and into Age Concern’s charity shop to see how they coped.

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The Sandwich Co-op's trading manager James Bridger has said more businesses should use the suit to educate their staff

The Sandwich Co-op's trading manager James Bridger has said more businesses should use the suit to educate their staff

Kent County Council’s dementia friendly communities project officer Tracey Schneider was invited to bring the suit, which is one of only a few in the country, to the town by Jane Goring from Age Concern.

The exercise was part of KCC and the centre’s quest to make the town a more dementia friendly place.

VIDEO: Reporter Eleanor Perkins was put to the test.

Ms Schneider said: “We can’t really give people a dementia suit to walk around in but what we can do is give them the next best thing which is this age simulation suit.

“We know that not everybody with dementia is elderly but some things do cross over.

“This suit adds about 30 to 40 years to a person. We’re hoping that by putting people in it and giving them some tasks to do, it will help them empathise better with those who are elderly and people with dementia.”

Reporter Eleanor Perkins suited up and ready to go

Reporter Eleanor Perkins suited up and ready to go

The suit consists of a vest full of weights to restrict movement and cause slouching, ear plugs and defenders to block out sound and yellow tinted goggles to reduce vision, particularly peripheral vision.

A neck collar is also a part of it, to restrict head movement and replicate a stiff neck.

Straps around the knees and elbows, and weights around the wrists and ankles also replicate joint stiffness.

Two pairs of gloves complete the suit, making it difficult to pick up small items.

Mr Bridger said: “It was a real challenge. Half way around the shop my legs were tired, my arms felt heavy and bending down to the bottom shelves and lifting up was all hard.

“It felt like I had flippers on my feet. I felt light and wobbly.”

Reporter Eleanor Perkins wears the age simulation suit around The Co-op in Sandwich

Reporter Eleanor Perkins wears the age simulation suit around The Co-op in Sandwich

Straps around the knees and elbows, and weights around the wrists and ankles replicate joint stiffness, making it hard to bend down.

Straps around the knees and elbows, and weights around the wrists and ankles replicate joint stiffness, making it hard to bend down.

Miss Perkins said: “The lack of vision from the goggles and head movement from the neck collar really opened my eyes to how it scary it must feel for elderly people.

“I couldn’t really see what I was placing into my basket and if I had had a handbag I wouldn’t have been able to easily keep an eye on it.

“This combined with the lack of hearing made me feel very isolated in the store.”

Mr Styles was asked to pick up a DVD, CD and a hat from within the charity shop which he works in.

He said: “Just walking around was hard. The suit slowed my movement down and that in turn slowed my thinking down.

“It was very hard to hear. Sounds were all muffled so I had to rely on lipreading.”

Despite being in a shop he is familiar with, Mr Styles tripped over the end of a rail.

He said: “It shocked me because it’s something that is always normally there and I’d usually see it.”

Jane Goring from Age Concern Sandwich with volunteer Andy Styles

Jane Goring from Age Concern Sandwich with volunteer Andy Styles

The suit, founded in Germany, has been purchased by KCC for £1,400 and is now on offer to anyone in the community who would like to experiment with it.

Mr Bridger added: “I think more businesses should be using it as a great tool to show awareness to their staff of how some customers might feel during their shopping experience.”

The suit can be altered to more closely mimic somebody with dementia by using goggles with spots on as well as ear phones which play music.

Ms Schneider explained that people with dementia have particularly limited peripheral vision and often see spots. Their hearing is sensitive as they are unable to block out low frequency sounds such as cars driving past or background music.

Miss Perkins said: “Undeniably, this suit would help people understand how hard everyday tasks such as getting out of bed, reaching up for things and being out in public, must be for elderly people.”

Mrs Goring, who watched on as the participants experimented with the suit, said: “I think it’s been really interesting and this is something we need to get everyone thinking about.”

If you’d like to use the age simulation suit to raise awareness in your establishment, email tracey.schneider@kent.gov.uk

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