Learning it's hell being old

Learning it's hell being old

A student-founded organisation uses a hi-tech suit to teach teens about ageing


Eldpathy co-founders Samantha Kong (left) and Herman Chan help an "elderly" Winnie Lee walk.
Eldpathy co-founders Samantha Kong (left) and Herman Chan help an "elderly" Winnie Lee walk.
Photo: Thomas Yau/SCMP
You probably never think about blurred vision and painful joints. Those with strong bodies find it hard to imagine what life is like for their grandparents.

To encourage society to care more for the elderly, a social enterprise called Eldpathy brought a specially made suit to Hong Kong. When young people put it on, they experience what it feels like to be old and weak.

Last week, Young Post junior reporters Giselle Chan and Winnie Lee Wing-yee tried the outfit on. "It wasn't until I tried the elderly simulation suit that I realised how hard it is for the elderly to walk around with hunched backs and aching muscles. Walking takes so much effort. Now I understand how they feel when they're walking slowly and how awful it would be," says Giselle.

Winnie says she never could have imagined the difficulties the elderly face every day until she put on the simulation suit. "Walking might seem a piece of cake for teenagers, but now that we've experienced having bad joints and a hunched back, I've become more motivated to help the elderly," she says.

Eldpathy, winner of the Hong Kong Social Enterprise Challenge, was founded by students at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). The name comes from combining "elderly" with "empathy", the ability to understand others' feelings because of your own experience.

Herman Chan Ho-man and Samantha Kong Wing-man were inspired to found Eldpathy after experiencing what it's like to have weaker sight through the social enterprise project Dialogue in the Dark. "After the experience, I had a whole new mindset about what it is like to be visually impaired. I was inspired to do a similar project, and the elderly became my target group," says Chan, who earned a degree in marketing from HKUST last year.

Today, 14 per cent of Hong Kong's population is aged 65 or older. By 2041, the percentage will increase to 30, which means that for every elderly person in the city, two adults will need to support him or her. Three decades ago, it was 10 adults supporting each elderly person.

As the population ages, many products and services targeting the elderly are available, but more needs to be done. "We take the stimulation suit into schools to help young people understand what it is like to be elderly," says Kong, a chemical and environmental engineering student at HKUST.

"We want to inspire them to care for and think about the needs of the elderly. Everyone will grow old, and we should approach the needs of the ageing population in a positive manner.

"I feel society is only focusing on providing them with products and services rather than caring for them."

Eldpathy is still in its early stages, and Chan wants to invite senior citizens to be part of their work. "The long-term goal is to increase interaction between the elderly and young people," he says. "We definitely want to know what the needs of the elderly are from their point of view."

To find out more about the elderly simulation suit or experience walking in it, visit websiteeldpathy.wix.com/eldpathy

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