We are Alfred with video 600x275

What is it like to grow old? For most of us, the only way to find out is to get old. Many of us are already there; in 2014 about one person in seven was 65 or older, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Community Services Administration for Community Living Administration on Aging’s latest report. At that time there were 46.2 million older people representing 14.5 % of the population. By 2060, these numbers are predicted to grow to 98 million 65-and-olders, accounting for 21.5 % of the population or approximately one in five people. We’ve written about the use of sensors to help seniors continue living independently or aging in place. We’ve also covered assistive clothing that can help older people stand up from a seated position.

Embodied Labs is developing virtual reality training for medical students to help them better understand the special needs of older patients. Based on Embodied Labs founder Carrie Shaw’s master’s degree project at the University of Chicago, the training is called We Are Alfred. It gives students experience with vision and hearing impairment. In the training (which we assure you has nothing to do with Health Tech Insider editor Alfred Poor), students wear a VR headset, headphones, and hand-tracking hardware. During the experience, a black fuzzy spot in the middle of the student’s field of vision mimics what it’s like to see with macular degeneration, a common visual condition among older people. My mother used to describe it as “everyone I look at has a black fuzzball in front of their face.” When the student in the experience is given a cognitive test by a doctor, the simulated high-frequency sound loss makes it impossible to hear the doctor. The frustrating experience ends with the doctor mistakenly diagnosing the patient with a cognition problem.

Significant computer and virtual reality hardware are required to run the Embodied Labs training experiences. The company is currently working on additional programs to give medical students a clear sense of what it can be like when elderly people with visual and auditory problems communicate with medical professionals and in everyday life.