Universiteit Leiden

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These students know what it’s like to be old

What is it like to be old? Many young people cannot really imagine what it is like. For a group of Honours students, however, this question has been answered. They had the chance to wear an age simulation suit during the Bachelor Honours Class ‘Vitality and Ageing’.

Chemistry student Tim is the first volunteer to wear the suit that simulates all signs of ageing from head to toe. He has to wear heightened shoes to recreate instability, weights around his ankles, torso, and arms to simulate weaker muscles, and also his knees are weakened. Earplugs and glasses which slightly adapt his vision are added as the finishing touches.

Instability and suffering from painful knees

After all students are provided with a simulation suit, it is time to explore the LUMC. Under the guidance of their fellow students, they climb stairs, cycle around, and some even try to buy a cup of coffee. ‘It’s going well, but I feel unstable the whole time’, says Honours student Yasmine. When she climbs the stairs, she really notices the suit. ‘It’s very noticeable around the knees. They are much harder to bend.’

Despite the instability, Tim and Yasmine hold a running competition. ‘Running is very difficult’, laughs Yasmine. ‘Tim was much faster!’

Not about, but with elderly people

The Bachelor Honours Class learns students about the differences between older people in terms of their vitality. One elderly person might experience severe limitations, while the other experiences that much less. This asks for varied care and innovative developments. In this class, students also have to think of an innovation which could help the vitality of elderly people.

Wearing the age simulation suit is part of the mode of thought in this class. ‘We don’t want the students to learn about elderly people, but with them’, says founder and teacher Yvonne Drewes. ‘This can best be done by going through the experiences of elderly people themselves. In addition, students will have conversations with elderly people later on in the course. They will discuss their own innovations with them.’

The teacher of this class about the simulation suit, Robert Du Puy, agrees with Drewes. ‘Because the students experience it themselves, it will become more alive.’

Electric shocks

While Tim and Yasmine are walking through the LUMC ‘as elderly people’, some students in the classroom experience other age-related ailments. For example, they have to wear gloves which emit small electrical shocks. ‘These gloves simulate tremors that some elderly people suffer from’, explains Du Puy.

During the assignments, when one of the students suddenly exclaims: ‘Can you imagine always  feeling like this?’, the importance of personally experiencing old age becomes very clear. Most students are relieved when they can take off the equipment.

Respecting grandparents

At the end of the class, students briefly discuss their experiences. ‘I have really gained more respect for my grandparents now’, says one of them. Tim agrees. ‘When I was wearing the simulation suit, I noticed that I appreciated the help of others much more’, he says. With this newly gained experience, it is time for the students to start innovating.

Text: Maxime Geervliet
Photography: Buro JP
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