The Reality of Aging

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What does it really mean to age?

Millennials and their baby boomer parents got a taste of that reality during the PBS documentary “Fast Forward.” Make-up artists transformed people’s faces, adding decades to their appearance, and wore AGNES, the Age Gain Now Empathy System, which was designed by the AgeLab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. AGNES is a “sympathy suit” rigged to simulate what it feels like to walk, move, bend, and see as an older adult.

The movie underscores how tough aging can be, and you walk away with greater compassion for seniors who are navigating the world. It also powerfully illustrates what’s in store for most of us and how physical limitations may affect retirement plans.

For instance, after watching someone try to maneuver in the AGNES suit, you realize that spending your retirement years riding a motorcycle across the country may not be realistic. Similarly, mobility challenges may make it less desirable or nearly impossible to live in a tiny house that features a ladder to a loft bedroom, for example. Beyond inspiring greater compassion, the movie also can motivate you to think about what aging will mean for you and contemplate the restrictions you may face.

It’s wise to make decisions now to address your future physical, social, and emotional needs so that your aging experience aligns as closely as possible with your wishes.

The film makes it clear that identifying your true wishes and getting them executed requires thinking deeply about your wants, examining your family and social circle to identify your go-to people, and addressing an array of legal and planning issues.

It also entails having tough conversations with loved ones.

Next Avenue partnered with the movie to provide a planning framework for those ready to look forward. Included are online courses, a toolkit, and a master checklist. For instance, “Complete an Advance Directive” guides you through thinking about medical treatments that are and aren’t acceptable to you and capturing that information in a living will.

Several guides ask you to address more practical matters, including housing choices and dealing with your belongings so that they won’t burden your survivors.

The master checklist walks you through the planning process and helps you think through and write down your thoughts and ideas. Its questions cover:

  • Who are your social and support team members?
  • What are the local options—agencies, community programs, home care providers, and transit groups—you could tap?
  • Where could you turn for help with personal care, pet care, home improvement, shopping, meal prep, and so forth?

Yet, talking about such issues is uncomfortable, so Next Avenue also suggests how to start such conversations (see “Share Your Plan”) with loved ones.

Additional resources:

Watch Fast Forward at
Find Next Avenues resources at

Learn more about AgeLab’s AGNES at



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