You're never too young to be old

How does it feel to be old? Twenty-five-year-old Alex Hayes put on goggles, ear plugs and a helpless manner and went to find out

WHEN YOU are young and fit, it's hard to sympathise with the limitations of old age. Young people are more likely to seethe and rev their engines than to empathise with the little old lady wobbling slowly across the road.

With the aim of increasing understanding of the handicaps of old age, I have been muscled into taking part in Through Other Eyes - a scientific experiment to raise people's awareness of a very real social problem. In other words, show us how it actually feels to be old. I was escorted on this mission by Gaby Brooks and Sharon Steele of Age Concern.

Age Concern believes that most of the younger population have no idea how difficult it is for some elderly people to perform everyday tasks such as open a milk carton or shop, let alone deal with more arduous chores. "Our ultimate aim is for people to realise how their mother or granny might feel," explains Ms Steele. "Once you see how your close relatives are struggling, your attitude towards the aged automatically changes. The next time you're at a supermarket till or behind a slow-moving elderly lady in the street, you're likely to show more patience."

The experiment involves wearing ankle and wrist weights to simulate loss of strength and agility; putting on specially prepared goggles, to represent cataracts, tunnel vision and retina damage, and inserting ear plugs to reduce hearing.

According to the charity's research, "the United Kingdom is an ageing society and, by the year 2026, half the adult population will be aged 55 or over. It is also significant that 80 per cent of the UK's private wealth is in the hands of people over 50, who are also the biggest spenders in every sector". Significant because supermarkets, department stores and other services obviously need older buyers. Fail to accommodate their needs and you risk alienating a large share of your target audience. Ms Steele admits that the original reason for companies showing an interest in the scheme is economic. "But, after their staff have done our workshop, their attitudes do change."

At first all the contraptions make me feel very self-conscious and unsure. "That's exactly how most old people feel," Ms Steele points out. "Many of them lose confidence when they go out, especially if they are in a foreign environment." I certainly struggled. The weights (half a kilo around my wrist and one kilo around my ankle) weren't too cumbersome, but the inflatable orange armband did cut-off the circulation in my arm. If I had had to carry shopping bags for any length of time, I would have found the experience difficult, if not impossible. The surgical gloves on each hand also made simple tasks more awkward, as did the goggles.

The combination of these two impairments was truly challenging. When paying for some flowers, which I could barely see, I struggled desperately to get change out of my pocket, let alone differentiate between the various coins.

Had my manner changed significantly when I was "old"? "You were definitely affected," says Ms Steele. "When you were buying the flowers, you cocked your head to hear the vendor clearly. And you crossed the street over- cautiously, even though the traffic had stopped."

So will I now be more sympathetic towards older people? "The aim of the workshop is not for people to feel sorry for the aged and tip-toe around them. A lot of them actually cope very well with their disabilities. What we're trying to say is that there's no need for some of the present barriers to be there."

These "barriers" are often small, seemingly insignificant obstacles, which prove insurmountable for the elderly. "For example, the colour schemes that some organisations use to promote their products prevent older people from seeing the price on the tag. Another example is the excessive use of mirrors in shops. It can be very confusing and disorientating. These are artificial barriers; aesthetic additions which serve no practical purpose. I mean, why put a stair in a building if it's not needed?'

Age Concern has carried out its workshop in large companies such as Safeway and Nestle. The workshops take half a day, cost between pounds 595 to pounds 895, and can accommodate a maximum of 12 people. And the scheme is making waves. Earlier this year, British Gas agreed to sponsor them. `They give us money to develop the programme, market it and renew some of the equipment."

On a personal level, my greatest achievement was threading a needle and sewing a button on to a piece of fabric despite my blurry vision and shaking hands. Now, for someone with a dreadful sewing record (one poorly sewn shirt-button in 25 years), this was no mean feat. Ironically, though - now that the contraptions have been removed - I will have to wait 40- odd years before I sew as expertly again. In the meantime, old people around Britain will continue raking it in on Bingo night. That's the injustice of being young.

For further information about Age Concern, call 0800 00 99 66; or contact Sharon Steele on 01543 504640 or Gabriella Brooks on 0181-679 8000

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing