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Car Designers, Architects Put Themselves in Seniors' Shoes

Engineer puts on the Third Age Suit to simulate physical limitations of aging

German architects recently visited Ford’s European Research Centre to try on the “Third Age Suit.”

Orthoses of the Third Age Suit

Orthoses limit joint movements, simulating old age.

Gloves make it harder to use the fingers

Special glasses and gloves alter vision and the sense of touch.

With age comes wisdom—but also, arthritis and a host of other well-known maladies and limitations.
Given the graying population in Europe and around the world, several years ago Ford Motor Company created the "Third Age Suit," a specially designed garment to help engineers get a visceral glimpse into the golden years. The suit helped Ford design cars that provided comfort and ease of usage for the young and old alike, including features like rear-view cameras, improved headroom and a better "H-point" (the point at which the hips swivel) to facilitate access to the interior. 

Now the Third Age Suit is becoming a tool for architects who are keen to design homes that meet the needs of older buyers. A group of architects from Hahn & Helten GmbH recently visited Ford's European Research Centre in Aachen, Germany, to try on the suits for themselves, and left with greater knowledge about designing for older homeowners, such as how to build senior friendly stairs, or why it’s important to make seating higher so the knee angle isn’t more than 90 degrees, making it easier to stand up.

The young architects who tried on the Third Age Suit at Ford’s research center knew within 30 minutes what it was like to feel 30 years older. The suit has several features that significantly reduce the capability to move and compromise the senses.

A kind of corset with shoulder straps strongly restricts flexibility of the upper body, particularly the hip region. Orthoses (of the type used by orthopedic surgeons to immobilize an injured limb) stiffen the knee and elbow joints as well as the feet to limit their movement. This impedes standing up, walking, and also grabbing and carrying things. A stiffened collar restricts the turning of the head.

Latex gloves limit the sense of touch, which is often a consequence of diseases such as diabetes. Fingerless mitts help young people to get a feeling for lost power in the hands and the immobility of the fingers. In addition, earplugs decrease the aural capabilities. Specially designed glasses simulate glaucoma and cataracts.

"For the first time, we intensively felt the restrictions of our target group and got a much closer understanding towards their real needs," says Günter Helten, managing director of Aachen-based Hahn & Helten. "We are going to take what we've learned from this suit and apply those learnings in a practical manner so that our accommodation is the best it can possibly be for our elderly target market."

Figures show that Europe’s population is getting older. The prediction is that by 2060, 30 percent of Europe's population will be more than 65 years old. "We developed this suit to show our engineers and designers what it feels like to be an older person," said Dr. Achim Lindner, physician at Ford's European Research Centre. "When you are young, you think you’re designing for everybody, but you can’t understand the range of people and their limitations." Lindner also reminds us, "You should always be aware that aging is not a disease but a natural process of life."

Information and Photos: Ford Motor Company

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Learn More 

Recognizing the value of empathy-building techniques like Ford's Third Age Suit, Right at Home is teaching caregivers what it is like to deal with the challenges of dementia through its Virtual Dementia Tour program. Visit the Right at Home website to view a video about this innovative program.

AAA offers information mature drivers can use when selecting a car that fits their needs and limitations.

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Right at Home, Inc. is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care services. 

 

 


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