I aged 16 years in five minutes.
I went from being 49 (outward signs of age are gray hair, paunch and the need to wear eyeglasses for driving) to 65. The signs of my instant aging: restricted movement in most major joints, awkwardness in bending, weaker grip and loss of touch sensitivity. My sight also deteriorated; bright lights became a problem and peripheral vision blurred.
'Between your twenties and sixties, most people lose 25 percent of their mobility,' said Sharon Cook, principal consultant for the transport unit ICE Ergonomics in Loughborough, England, the company that made the Third Age Suit that helped me age so dramatically.
The suit is a set of overalls with strategically placed foam and Velcro fastenings. It is designed to restrict movement in critical areas. Webbing across the shoulders makes it harder to twist and turn, and webbing around the waist makes it difficult to bend.
'We wanted to try to replicate the effects of aging to help young car designers experience the difficulties that older drivers might have, getting in and out of cars and using controls,' Cook said.
It is not just restricted movement. Older people lose 25 percent of their muscle strength, and the time it takes to move is anywhere up to 30 percent slower, she said. Aging also means rapid and accurate movements are far less easy. And small radio or heating controls become difficult to grasp.
ICE's Third Age Suit - originally developed in conjunction with Ford Motor Co. - is hefty, weighing 3.5 kilograms.
It is all part of making sure that the young workers in the car industry realize what life is like for older drivers - 'third agers,' in design jargon.
So, what is it like?
It takes about five minutes to put on the suit. You step into it as you would a pair of coveralls, and the joint pads are adjusted to cover the elbows, knees and ankles.
Two pairs of surgical-style, thin rubber gloves are worn on each hand; on top of these, thick fingerless mittens are worn. The surgical gloves reduce touch sensitivity - and therefore accuracy - and the mittens impair bending the knuckles. The final item, and possibly the most dramatic, is the yellow-tinted eyeglasses. As we age, eyes lose some of their sensitivity to blue light, so everything takes on a yellow tint.
The eyeglasses reduce vision to the legal minimum requirement for driving in the United Kingdom - the ability to read a license plate at a distance of 20 meters. They also replicate the increasing inability of older people's eyes to adjust to oncoming bright lights or to pick out dimly lit objects.
I found it disorientating - almost scary - that people drive with such diminished vision.
Encased in the suit, I walked a couple of hundred yards to the car. The ankles ached. Just the slight loss of movement made me extra cautious.
Once at the car - a Toyota Celica, hardly an ideal choice for a third ager - the first challenge was to get in. Do I sit and swing my legs around? Or do I put one leg in, twist, sit and bring in the other leg? I never stopped to think how I get in or out of a car until that moment. I guess that, like most of us, I just get in. It was definitely a case of sit first, then swing in the legs. It was awkward without being too difficult.
The two most difficult moves were reaching for the seat belt and trying to open the storage bin between the two front seats. Reaching back over my right shoulder was made more difficult by the webbing in the suit. The restricted joint movement made it difficult to get to the center box, whichever hand I tried to use.
Gripping the steering wheel was not too difficult, although controlling the pedals was laborious, despite the light clutch action and easy gear change. An automatic transmission would have been ideal.
Brakes? Lifting the right foot from throttle to brake was not easy because the knee and ankle strapping slowed me down.
Here is a plea to all young designers of sound systems: Make the dials big, simple and easy to see. Because I wear eyeglasses for driving, I have noticed how difficult it is to focus quickly on radio controls. Put on ICE's yellow eyeglasses, and it becomes even more so. Add a handful of sausage fingers, and initial frustration soon will become anger that anyone could have designed anything so hard to use.
Praise goes to Ford, whose Focus was the first car to benefit from the Third Age Suit. The Focus was being developed as the research with ICE - which is attached to Loughborough University - got under way. Ford designers and engineers developed the car with more headroom than the Escort it replaced to make it easier to get in and out.
ICE is not going to market the suit to other carmakers because it may not be the most suitable means for addressing each automaker's specific needs. It may be a tool for the design of other forms of transportation, such as buses, trains and planes, as well as buildings and other consumer products, Cook said. But for now, Ford is glad to have used the suit.
'When you're young and fit enough to leap out of a car without effort, it's hard to appreciate why an older person may need to lever themselves out of the driver's seat by pushing on the seat back and the door frame,' said Mike Bradley, ergonomics specialist in Ford's Dunton, England, design center.
'But try leaping out while you are wearing this suit, and you really understand the challenges we face.'
Leap? No. In this suit, you have to think twice before you do anything.