Special Ford suit used to mimic the elderly finds use among architects

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Architects from Hahn & Helten GmbH recently visited the Ford research center in Aachen, Germany research center to try out the company's Third Age Suit. Ford built the suit a few years ago to help engineers design cars around the physical limitations of old age, and it's gaining traction outside the automotive world.

Restrictive apparel simulates the physical limitations associated with arthritic joints, failing eyesight and poor hearing. Since its inception, the suit has been instrumental in the design of cars with backup cameras and a more elderly-friendly "H-point," known to us non-engineers as the point where your hips swivel when getting into a car.

The suit works by restricting the flexibility of the upper body with a corset-like harness that hinders range of motion. Similar harnesses make moving the elbows, knees and feet a chore, and the suit also simulates decreased dexterity and sense of touch with latex-lined fingerless gloves.

Now, the suit is being used by European architects to design more elderly-friendly houses. According to Ford, 30 percent of Europe's population is expected to be 65 or older by 2060, making accessibility an even more important part of design.

Ford says architects came away with a new appreciation for the limitations of old age, and how to design around them. Hahn & Helten got particularly sharp insight into designing senior-friendly stairs, and seating that doesn't require you to bend your knees past 90 degrees, making standing up easier. Check out the full story from Ford after the jump.

Ford Third Age Suit
Ford Third Age Suit
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[Source: Ford]
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Ford's 'Third Age Suit' Helps Architects Design Homes to Meet Needs of Europe's Growing Elderly Population

AACHEN, Germany, April 15, 2011
– With age comes wisdom. Pity that it also often brings along arthritis and a host of other well-known maladies and limitations.

Given the greying population in Europe and around the world, Ford Motor Company several years ago created the "Third Age Suit" – a specially designed suit that when worn by engineers provides a visceral glimpse into the golden years. The suit for years 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 Aachen research centre to try the suits for themselves, having seen media coverage of the innovation. The home designers left with a better appreciation of what an older homeowner might need, such as how to design senior friendly stairs or why it's important to make seating higher so that the knee angle isn't more than 90 degrees – making it easier to stand up.

"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."

The young architects who tried on the Third Age Suit at Ford's European Research Centre in Aachen 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 or that compromise the senses.

A kind of corset with shoulder straps strongly restricts flexibility of the upper body, particularly the hip region. The so-called orthoses 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. Usually, such orthoses are used by orthopedic surgeons to immobilise injured limbs after accidents and operations. A stiffened collar handicaps the turning of the head.

Latex gloves convey a limited sense of touch, which is often a consequence of diseases such as diabetes. Fingerless mitts help young people to get a feeling for the lost power in the hands and the immobility of the fingers. In addition, earplugs decrease the aural capabilities. Specially-designed glasses demonstrate the consequences of different eye diseases, including common disorders such as glaucoma and cataracts. In many cases, people lose the ability to see in three-dimensions. Monocular vision causes the loss of the ability to view 180 degrees.

Figures show that Europe's population is getting older. According to the 2009 Ageing Report by the European Commission and the Economic Policy Committee, across the 27 EU member states 17.2 percent of the population was over the age of 65 – compared to 13.9 percent in 1990. And the prediction is that by 2060, 30 percent of Europe's population will be over 65. The EU median age has also increased from 35.2 in 1990 to 40.7 in 2009, with it predicted to hit 47.9 by 2060.

"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 the European Ford 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. And you should always be aware that ageing is not a disease but a natural process of life."

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