Bridging the Gap: Technology’s Role in Understanding Aging — Interview with Taylor Patskanick, MIT AgeLab, and Amanda Krisher, Engage with®

In the latest episode of “Engaging with Aging,” we bring together two pioneers at the forefront of redefining care for older adults through the lens of empathy and technology. Taylor Patskanick from MIT AgeLab introduces us to the Agnes suit, a breakthrough tool that simulates the physical effects of aging, offering insights into the daily challenges faced by older adults. This innovative approach encourages a deeper understanding and empathy among designers, engineers, and policymakers, inspiring them to create solutions that significantly improve the quality of life for older adults.

Meanwhile, Amanda Krisher of Engage with® shares her experience with a virtual training program designed to equip caregivers and professionals with crucial skills in empathy, respect, and effective communication. By using interactive online tools, the program aims to enhance the caregiving experience for both caregivers and older adults, emphasizing the importance of understanding and addressing their unique needs and perspectives.

The intersection of Taylor’s and Amanda’s work highlights the pivotal role of empathy in driving innovation and improvement in older adult care. Through both physical simulation and educational programs, they showcase how an empathetic approach can lead to more thoughtful, effective, and compassionate care solutions. Their collaborative insights underscore the idea that truly understanding the aging experience can spark meaningful changes in how we support and value our older population.

This episode invites you to explore how combining empathy with technology can transform the landscape of aging care, making it a must-watch for anyone interested in making a positive impact in the lives of older adults. Join us to learn more about these innovative strategies and how they are setting the stage for a future where aging is not just about living longer, but living better.

Read the Full Transcript

[00:00:43.750] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
Hi and welcome to Engaging with Aging, and what promises to be an enlightening and inspiring roundtable discussion about the future of aging and older adult care. My name is Keri Boyer, Senior Editor of the Engaging with Aging monthly newsletter publication. And today, we are honored to have with us two very distinguished guests who are at the forefront of innovating and shaping the way that we better understand and care for our aging population. First, we have Taylor Patskanick, a Technical Associate at the MIT Age Lab, where she contributes to the ground-breaking work of understanding aging through technology and design. Taylor has been instrumental in the development and the dissemination of the Age, Gain, Now Empathy System. It’s a suit, better known as Agnes, a remarkable tool that simulates the physical challenges associated with aging. This suit allows for designers, engineers, and policymakers to physically step into the shoes of an older adult, fostering empathy and sparking innovation in products and services that enhance the lives of older adults. Also joining us today is Amanda Krisher, the Senior Director of the Engage with Skills Training Program, a national initiative of the Mental Health Association of Maryland.

[00:02:06.900] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
It’s a virtual online training program that champions the power of empathy, respect, and effective communication in older adult care. With over a decade of experience in social work and program management, Amanda brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to training caregivers. Her work focuses on equipping professionals with the soft skills necessary to provide compassionate and high-quality care to older adults. In today’s discussion, we’re going to explore their journeys, the innovative tools and the programs they’ve developed, and their vision for the future of aging and long term care. Taylor, I’m going to hand it over to you. Can you tell me a little bit about the MIT AgeLab and the Agnes suit?

[00:02:53.070] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
Great. Thank you, Keri, and thank you so much for having us in today. It was a warm invitation, so I’m really pleased to be here with you both. Just to get us started here, the Age Lab is a multidisciplinary research lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or better known as MIT. We’ve been around for about 20 some odd years. We were started really actually thinking about the older driver. Our director, Dr. Joseph Coughlin, was working with some of the OEMs, insurers in some of his early research and early work around how to have more productive conversations within families around when it’s time to transition away from driving and talk about driving retirement. I tell you that because I think it’s It helps center us. We are located in MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics, and we still have a really huge team at the Age Lab who actually does work thinking about in-vehicle technology interaction, how people driving on the road, and things of that nature. However, I’m also coming to you today from the Social and Behavioral Sciences Group. We are a multidisciplinary group, really interested in understanding what the implications are of our ever-growing longevity, if you will, as a species, and what that means for how people make decisions, how businesses need to be thinking about their decision-making in their business markets, as well as how we can better innovate in our systems, in our technologies, and in our spaces to meet the needs of this new longevity and of an aging population.

[00:04:44.090] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
Well, it’s wonderful to have you, Taylor. Amanda, can you share us a little bit about the Engage with Skills Training program?

[00:04:52.970] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
Sure. Thank you, Keri. The Engage with Skills Training program is a program designed to build empathy, respect, and effective communication skills in caregivers who are supporting older adults. We started with a focus in the long-term care industry, specifically skilled nursing, as well as assisted living, and we’re able to expand that reach a little bit more to organizations supporting older adults aging in the community. We really focus on making the training fun and interactive. We bring some some interesting technology. Our virtual training center is built on a gaming platform, so you have some of the fun associated with that. But really, the root of it is getting people to have an opportunity to learn and practice in real-time and really have a chance to engage not only with the live instructor, but also with each other is a way of gaining that empathy and understanding about older adults and what their needs and what their perspectives perspectives and expectations are.

[00:06:01.600] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
Wonderful. Well, I’m so happy you could join us today as well. To kick things off, let’s get into our first topic for today’s discussion. I’d like to explore a little bit more about how empathy and innovation intersect within the world of older adult care. I think it’s essential to recognize the profound role that empathy plays in driving meaningful innovations in the field of aging and older care. Empathy or the ability to understand and share feelings of another serves as the cornerstone of creating solutions that genuinely resonate with the needs and the challenges faced by older adults. In this segment, I’d like to explore how empathy not only informs the development of technological tools and educational programs, but also underpins the transformative potential of these innovations and enhances the quality of life for our aging population. From the tactile experience of the Agne suit, developed at the MIT Age Lab, which offers, wearers a glimpse into the physical realities of Aging. To engage with skills training program, which cultivates the crucial soft skills among caregivers, empathy stands really at the intersection of technology and human-centric care. I’d like to ask both of you, can you share how the Agnes suit and the Engage with Skills Training program, respectively, serve as tools for fostering empathy in your fields?

[00:07:50.800] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
How do these tools transform practitioners’ perspectives on aging and older adult care? Definitely.

[00:07:57.320] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
As you have Offered already, Keri, Agnes as a tool is, as a surprise to most folks, relatively low tech off-the-shelf equipment, essentially, that people wear. With a tool like this, our goal, fundamentally, is to offer another form of learning for people. Oftentimes, designers of technologies, spaces, products, services of these things for an aging population don’t have the lived experiences of our family caregivers or of our older adults. A tool like Agnes gives folks an opportunity to experience the world and interact with their particular object of design as a version of their future selves. In that process, We are hoping that the tool first sparks a level of awareness about how, for example, this thing could be designed differently or better because the designer has the disciplinary background or know-how to implement the appropriate changes. We then hope the tool moves them from that awareness to an internalizing process, so actually experiencing firsthand the felt need or the, again, first-person experience that you simply can’t get from only talking with older adults, for example, as a part of your design process. Then we hope the tool then moves them to the development phase. So this idea of awareness, internalize, develop.

[00:09:52.260] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
Can we then implement, based on our experiences in the Agnes suit, a change, or sometimes I call them a hack to actually improve the design of whatever the technology product or service is.

[00:10:09.210] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
From the training perspective, we do a lot of teaching in a model of learn and do. We give people a chance to wrap their heads around maybe a new concept. As they’re doing that, we also get them to think about, How would this experience feel for you if you were an older adult. And so once they’ve thought about what they would like as a person who’s aging, then it’s a lot easier for them to be able to bring that awareness to conversations that they’re having with the older adults that they’re working with. And one of the things that I love about our training is that it gives them that opportunity to practice those skills in real-time. So you’re not learning something, and then a week or two goes by, and then you’re faced with a situation where maybe this information could be helpful. But right away, we say, Okay, let’s imagine that this is what’s happening. We’re going to interact with this particular older adult who has this need. And now we’re going to use those same things that we just talked about to approach the situation differently. And I love when I hear people at the end of a training say, This got me to think about the experiences of our older adults that we’re working with in a very different way.

[00:11:25.700] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
That it’s not maybe that they’re trying to be difficult or challenging them with their behaviors, but that there was something that was missing. There was a need that was missing that they were able to uncover once they approach the situation with more empathy.

[00:11:41.950] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
I think it’s interesting how technology can allow us to bring in empathy in a way that it hasn’t or perhaps it wouldn’t be perceived. This is great. Taylor, for the Agnes Suit, as you mentioned, it provides a very unique unique physical insight into the aging process. How have you seen this firsthand experience influence the designers or engineers or others developing more accessible products and services for older adults?

[00:12:17.630] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
One of the things we’re thinking increasingly about right now is how you balance principles of universal design or ageless design with designing for the unique needs that perhaps an older user has. I would add also balancing that with personalized design. So design that’s in some way fluid and able to meet each of us where we are based on our own data and personalized experience that we’re hoping to get out of our interaction. I say that because that is currently the the high-level theme that we’re chewing on right now with Agnes as a tool. However, to give you a more concrete example of some of the adjustments that we’ve seen as a result of creating design sprints, for example, with the Agnes tool. I’ll tell you a brief story about some early work that we did with a tool with CVS Health, a US pharmaceutical company. We had their executive and some Agelab researchers, Sudap and Agnes, and go through a typical consumer journey through one of their middle-market stores. When we think about the process of somebody starting from when they quite literally enter the front of the store and go through experiences like making their way to the pharmacist counter in the back, selecting certain kinds of products or even checking out.

[00:14:00.640] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
Agnes introduces a level of friction or frustration and even a little bit of fatigue over time when the user is playing with the tool. In this case, we are able to, again, create that design sprint, and our participants will say, You know what? This doesn’t need to be this difficult. Then we can implement changes, such as was the case in this project, to things like product placement, how the shelves are actually built. If you go into your grocery store today, you might see very long aisles with nowhere to get out. You have to walk from one end to the other or turn around right away. Instead, we were able to create in this project floating aisles that looked much shorter and were also less tall so that folks could reach for specialty products in a more accessible way, create new pathways of wayfinding for themselves through the store. Another example of a hack, so to speak, that we might make from this example of a project would have been around thinking about using color and material and contrast in the floor to help create, again, pathways that make it very simple for people to find the pharmacy counter in the back or to make their way to the checkout counter in the front, things like that.

[00:15:30.070] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
Wow. I love the ageless design. I think that’s a really interesting way to paraphrase. I can’t say that I would have considered even factoring those in, but that’s what’s so unique about the suit is that you physically experience what it’s like to be an older adult. I think that would be a powerful experience for designers. As you said, disciplinary to experience it firsthand. Implementing the Engage with Skills Training program. How have you observed changes in care professionals approach to working with older adults after undergoing empathy, respect, and effective communication skills training?

[00:16:18.710] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
I think one of the examples that really sticks out to me is from some of our earlier work and having an opportunity to interview some of the staff members who had gone through the training and hearing them talk about just simple things that they were doing differently, acknowledging the person by knocking on the door before they walked into their room. It seemed like such a simple matter, but that was something that they realized may have been disrespectful to the person when they were just waltzing in and saying, Hey, we’re here to take care of X, Y, and Z. So little things started to come up in my conversations whether it was with the interview, interview is after the training was over or even in the evaluation after a class is complete, where people will say, I’m going to not only take this information and use it with the people that I’m working with, but this is going to be really helpful in my work and conversations with my mom or a grandmother that they’re helping to support. So I think there’s just a lot of small changes that happen when people are feeling more empathetic Those small changes can add up to what feels like a big shift.

[00:17:37.130] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
But that’s the beauty of training, is that the more we’re able to engage participants, the more people that we have in an organization that are completing the training, we see that shift. Even if somebody wasn’t a part of the training, somebody else who was will say, Hey, we learned this really interesting thing in training, and let me teach you about it, and let’s see if we can do this to address this situation in a different way based on what we learned in training. They were teaching each other even after the training, which was really amazing to hear.

[00:18:09.810] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
I think that’s where that intersect really, for me, is happening, is that this is both training in a way. Skills training is one thing, but wearing this suit and actually getting a chance to experience things firsthand is a training in and of itself. It’s a physical experience. I got to ask you, I want to pivot a little bit to the technology piece of it. I want to ask both of you, how do you see technology and interactive training complementing each other in shaping the future of long-term care?

[00:18:45.550] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
Well, so I’m actually going to… I’m going to talk about here my own experience with the Agnes suit and how that has impacted my ability to train. So I had an opportunity to put on the Agnes suit and try to interact with the world around me, and I immediately noticed several things as soon as I put it on. And just being able to recognize why it is that an older adult might not be moving as quickly. For a person who’s younger and able-bodied, then they’re like, Come on, I got 10 people to work with. We don’t have time for you to take 20 minutes to walk into the bathroom. But the reality is that that’s their experience, and we can’t rush that. Being able to say to training participants now, Listen, I’ve even had this experience of putting this dude on feeling literally like I’m in the shoes of an older adult, and here’s what that felt like, and here’s what that taught me. And so maybe they don’t have that direct experience, but what it does is it gets them to think about things differently and to be able to say, okay, a simple example.

[00:20:05.760] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
As soon as Taylor put the vest on me, I immediately hunched over. I have a grandmother who’s in her 80s who walks hunched over. I immediately was like, Oh, I understand now. It’s not just a matter of getting grandma to stand up straighter. Her physical body has changed, and this is her experience, and we need to be able to understand that and work through that on her level and make sure that her needs are being met. So that was an intersection of the Agnes Suit and the training is being able to have had that experience and share that with participants to help them, again, see the experience of an older adult in a different way.

[00:20:52.760] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
That’s wonderful. Taylor, did you have anything that you wanted to add to that?

[00:20:57.400] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
I think I would just say, again, with Agnes being a tool that’s grounded in this idea of experiential learning theory, like I think Amanda is referencing, with our goals in putting the suit on people, what’s remarkable about the suit is that it is relatively low tech. I think what’s interesting about this, thinking about this intersection of technology and training and learning and professional Ed, I education is how we’re always going to need a balance in the spectrum of high to low tech or high touch to low touch in our ability to continue to create good learning outcomes like empathy for professionals who are using these tools and taking these trainings. While Agnes 1.0, as it is right now, is on one hand very portable and doesn’t need a charger and I’m able to create experiences for folks like Amanda relatively quickly. There is certainly a possible future in which there’s another version of Agnes that offers greater customization to what someone may experience or is better able to measure also the kinds of impacts that we might be trying to stimulate.

[00:22:20.500] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
We’ve got to hear a little bit of that firsthand experience from Amanda. Is there any other ways that feedback from other users from the Agnes Suit has been incorporated into maybe ongoing research or development projects at the MITH lab?

[00:22:38.640] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
Always. We are always tinkering with the tool as a tool and as a tool for learning. We’re also always thinking about how we can incorporate into our work. I would say as of lately, we’ve been using the suit with students at MIT more recently. Doing some thinking more about the tool in terms of its internal validity, if you will. How can we actually measure some of this impact, whether it’s thinking about psychological empathy, but also adjustments to someone’s gait or changing their heart rate or some of these more physiological measures as well. That is a roundabout way of answering your question in terms of how we’re using the suit right now, which has been more within an internal capacity. But yes, I anticipate that we’ll be doing some more applied work with some of our research sponsors in the spring as well.

[00:23:46.580] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
For you, Amanda, how has the virtual training environment of Engage with program been tailored to address specific needs or challenges faced by caregivers in the field?

[00:23:58.310] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
Our goal, when we very started was to make our training as user friendly as possible. Technology can obviously be a little intimidating to some people, and so we really wanted to come up with a product that was going to be user friendly. The organization that developed our virtual training center actually sent one of their developers to see a live in-person training and get a feel for how participants were interacting with the instructor, what activities we were doing so that we could use that knowledge to create this platform that was going to be user friendly. And so everything that happens in the training is controlled by the instructor. So once a person answers and they get themselves in there and situated, they don’t have to move their avatar from one place to another as they’re learning, but the whole group moves together. So their responsibility really is just being able to absorb that information and participate in the activity. So it might be clicking on an answer on the screen. It might It might be typing in a response, it might be playing a game, but there’s a lot of expectation that this should be user friendly across the board, whether you’re somebody who is a gamer outside of your daily work or a person who doesn’t really feel as comfortable with technology.

[00:25:20.580] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
We also have a technology assistant who’s available during every training, so that’s a person who can walk someone through any tech issues just in case they come up. But we, again, have tried really hard to keep things as user friendly as possible so that we don’t see too many issues for that person to deal with.

[00:25:38.260] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
Let’s transition from that foundational role of empathy in older adult to our next topic. This is a really good segue into it because we’ve touched on the outer skirts of it already. That’s on how technology plays a role in training and education. In an where technological advancements are just rapidly transforming every aspect of our lives. The field of aging and older adult care is really no exception. Technology not only has the power to enhance the physical aspects of care, but it also plays a pivotal role in educating and training the workforce that supports our aging population. This is segment I really want to explore how innovative tools and digital platforms are reshaping the way that caregivers and professionals are trained, enhancing their skills to meet the very complex needs of our older adults with greater precision, and as we’ve talked about, empathy. From the immersive experience provided by the Agnes Suit, it simulates that aging process to the engage with program that uses the virtual environment for skills development. Technology is really at the forefront of revolutionizing education and training in older adult care. I wanted to just open with a question, how have technological advancements shaped the training and education of professionals within the older adult care industry?

[00:27:15.010] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
Do you have any specific examples from your work that you could share or any insights that you could provide for that?

[00:27:23.610] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
I think technology has opened so many doors with regards to trading and education. If you think about traditional learning, sitting in a classroom, there’s a lot of benefits to that. You have that interaction, you can engage with people, but there’s also a lot of challenges with it, especially in an industry that’s supporting older adults. Pulling a full group of staff off the floor to come into a training can be extremely difficult because then you need to find people to cover those spots for them. It also can be a little It’s a little bit intimidating when you’re sitting in a room with your colleagues and you’re learning something new, and maybe you don’t necessarily know the right answer, and so you’re hesitant to put yourself out there. What technology does for us is it creates this safe space. So especially in a virtual world where everyone’s coming in as an avatar. Nobody’s on the screen, nobody sees who you are. When you’re responding to a question, it’s not tied to you. So it gives people an opportunity to let their guard down and say, You know what? Maybe in a classroom setting, person to person, face to face, I might not raise my hand or give a suggestion in this moment, but here I feel safe to be able to do that.

[00:28:39.260] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
It creates a new environment for learning. I think there’s also new and fun ways to learn. So gaming is huge. And finding ways to take common experiences that you maybe would role play in a face to face training, we can do that with a game, with a non-player character. And that, again, makes the experience more personal to that individual. So they’re not worried about what their colleagues are thinking if they say or do something that maybe didn’t work so well, but they’re giving that chance to really experience something from a different perspective. I think technology, it’s like the world is your oyster when it comes to technology. I think there’s so many different avenues that we can go down with technology, and I’m excited to continue to explore those as we expand our program.

[00:29:37.890] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
I think as we think about this intersection of global aging and greater presence of technology-enabled services in people’s lives, especially in education, we also have a new opportunity, if you will, to also understand also from the From providers’ perspectives who are providing services to older adults, how we’re going to be needing to increasingly meet the needs of an increasingly technology savvy, older age. We all, all of us on this call are aging, and we’re all going to be increasingly tech savvier than previous generations of older people. This is an awesome thing. There’s an endless possibility here to serve educational needs of an aging population better. I would also just add that we, of course, are thinking along the same lines as Amanda here at the Age Lab as well. We’re really interested in considering how technology is changing everything from how people get advice and implement that advice in their lives and change their behavior to thinking about groups of professionals who work with older people, for We do a lot of work with the financial services industry and thinking about retirement planning. How can new tools like AR or VR be used to help in those advice-giving interactions, such as between a financial advisor and their older client, or their younger client who is aging and needs to be planning for retirement?

[00:31:24.930] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
That’s a quick shout out to my colleague, Shanghung Li, who’s doing some of his doctoral work focused in that space as well.

[00:31:32.100] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
That’s incredible. That’s incredible. I hadn’t even considered that, to be honest, Taylor. Just a completely different industry. That’s fascinating that the Agnes Suit can provide so much insight into just a myriad of different use cases. That’s fascinating. Then how do you How do you envision the integration of such physical simulation tools in an educational setting to prepare future generations? I initially was going to say caregivers, but I feel like this could be expansive, especially because of how useful the Agnes suit is in, I guess it’s cross-industry. There’s so many use cases where that could be beneficial.

[00:32:29.920] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
Yeah, it’s a great question and one that we are constantly also thinking about, because there’s definitely an opportunity here to tailor any given Agnes training, if you will, or training that utilizes Agnes to any particular discipline. I give talks all year round with Agnes to everybody, from medical students in medical school to people that work with older adults in a direct care capacity in a senior living community. Each of these professionals have different needs in terms of how they can apply their insights about empathy and interactions with Agnes to their work that they do. There’s always a need to think about how we can innovate in how we offer the training, but also in the benefits that we hope to deliver on.

[00:33:25.940] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
Amanda, so as a follow-up to that, as it applies to engage with skills training program and how they utilize a virtual platform for teaching empathy, respect, and effective communication. What would you say has been the most significant benefits and challenges of using technology in this context?

[00:33:49.720] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
I think one of the biggest benefits is the fact that our virtual training can be accessible to anyone who has an Internet connection connected computer. So right now, there’s no need for any special technology. If a person can get on the internet and stream a video from a computer, they can join the training. And so that really makes it so much more accessible to people and really the ability to scale it, not just for one organization. So a lot of our projects right now are working with multiple organizations who are sending staff to a designated training session. And in that moment, you have people from home care, from adult day services, maybe from the local library system, from emergency management. You bring this whole group of people together who are all coming to you with the same task is supporting that older adult in the community. And no matter what their role is, they’re going to learn from each other as well as the instructor. And so I I love that technology gives us an opportunity to really bring together people who maybe wouldn’t necessarily have an opportunity to be together in a training and learn other perspectives as we’re talking about these crucial skills.

[00:35:15.940] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
Having explored the transformative role of technology and training in education, I really want to pivot to our next topic, which is that interdisciplinary approaches to aging. Taylor hit all this a little bit earlier on. But the complexity of aging and the diverse needs of older adults demand a multifaceted approach that transcends traditional boundaries. It’s an area that inherently requires collaboration across a spectrum of disciplines, medicine, technology, design, sociology, and beyond, to really forge comprehensive and effective solutions. In this part of the discussion, let’s dive into how combining insights and expertise from various fields leads to innovative strategies and interventions in older adult care. Whether it’s the Agnes Suit, which, as I’ve said, is a physical embodiment of that interdisciplinary collaboration, or the engage with skills training that integrates psychology and communicative theories into practical training, the value of an interdisciplinary approach is really undeniable. I want to open and ask both of you, how do interdisciplinary approaches enhance the effectiveness of your respective programs in addressing the multifaceted aspects of aging? Can you share some examples where maybe some collaboration across different fields has led to innovative solutions? For your programs?

[00:37:01.510] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
Yeah, I think you’ve framed it up perfectly for us, Keri, because aging doesn’t belong to any one particular discipline, and it’s why I love being in this space so much. I would say Agnes is the living example of a tool that was actually borne out of a need for more of a multidisciplinary conversation. The tool itself was brainstormed several years ago in a room in MIT full of of medical MD doctors, medical doctors, MDs, a nurse. We had a geriatric occupational therapist and physical therapist, as well as several engineers and computer scientists. It was each of these people who had, again, a different academic position, if you will, or training, were coming together as part of a project we were doing with then Daimler, which is now Mercedes, I believe, the car company, to get their team also on the same page about what it is that they had in common, which was the older driver. Not their business goals, or the KPIs or whatever, but the older driver. The actual impetus for coming up with a tool like Agnes came from this need to have the multidisciplinary team start talking the same language. It was through this tool for embodiment that we were actually able to start that conversation.

[00:38:36.040] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
I’m going to piggyback off of what Taylor said about getting people to talk the same language. When we do a training, whether it’s with a long term care center or a home and community based organization, we want everyone involved. I’ve had trainings where people will say, Oh, well, is it just for the direct care workers? Just the nurses or the CNAS or the GNA, the nursing assistance? They’re like, No, no, no, no, no, your dining, whether your housekeeping, whether you’re answering the phone, every single person is going to have that opportunity to interact with that older adult. Sometimes it’s the person that you least expect that that older adult is going to have the best connection with. And so if everyone is approaching that situation with the same set of skills, the same set of understanding, that’s where we’re going to see such a positive outcome for the older adult, because everyone is speaking the same language. So it really is exciting to have a training class that has multiple disciplines in it because they’re, again, going to bring a different perspective. Maybe dining is going to know something that the direct care staff does doesn’t know.

[00:40:00.740] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
When they share that information, guess what? Now that direct care staff member can have a more positive interaction because they’re aware of this piece of the older adult’s experience that really matters.

[00:40:12.740] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
I was just thinking, When you mentioned that the interdisciplinary was the impetus of the creation of this, just having everyone together, meeting of the minds, if you will, physiologists, engineers, designers in the creation of it, how does this multidisciplinary collaboration inform the ongoing research and development at the MITH lab, particularly in creating tools that simulate aging. Is that something that’s ongoing as you guys continue to develop the program and the suit?

[00:40:58.730] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
It is, and it’s absolutely crucial, and it will continue to be. I was talking earlier about working with some students here at MIT on this next iteration of Agnes and thinking about how we really measure the impact of the suit. My background is in public health and in social work. These were students I was working with in a human factors engineering class. They were from MIT’s Aeronautics and Astronautics Department. We don’t speak the same language all on paper, hypothetically. While we’re both working in service to this tool and into thinking about how we would build out a larger research study around measuring the impact of this tool and what that’s going to require of us, we’re also having individual experiences that are changing our own understanding and our own learning of how we can relate to other kinds of disciplines. I guess in a way, cultivating our own empathy as a part of that. I had my own hangups about being involved in, again, an Aeroastro class. I’m like, This is totally out of my field. I have no idea what I’m going to be walking into or if I’m even going to be remotely prepared for the conversations that we’re going to be having.

[00:42:20.320] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
In turn, I learned a ton. I learned a couple of new theories that I wasn’t familiar with. I learned a lot about wearables randomly. We were doing a lot of testing with using wearables as a part of piloting some of the measures and some of the study protocol that we would put together. It’s a small example, but there is that internal experience as well that’s happening as a part of continuing to engage in that interdisciplinary fashion.

[00:42:53.290] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
Amanda, I have a follow-up for you. Engage with empathizes, as we’ve stated, empathy, respect, effective communication. How do you incorporate insights from psychology, social work, and health care to develop and refine your training programs?

[00:43:13.240] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
The development of The Training was founded in the Mental Health Association of Maryland’s 20 plus year history of engaging in the older adult community. So the original concept content was developed through this 20 years of experience with multiple theories associated with it, as well as a medical perspective from a psychiatrist who was part of the development team. And then I bring the social work aspect to the training and education. So we’ve been really fortunate to have a core team building the curricula with a variety of backgrounds. We also have a nurse who is one of our trainers, and so she is able to incorporate more of the health care space. And it really has been fascinating to see how there are some similarities in the way that we think about training and education, and also some differences that have helped us create a more meaningful training experience. So I think we’re constantly on the the look out for the latest and the greatest research. We do an annual update to make sure that we’re keeping things current with our statistics just so that we’re really trying to stay one step ahead as much as we can with bringing in all of that information and incorporating it together.

[00:44:44.850] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
Let’s delve a little bit into how aging is perceived and managed across different cultures and societies. I’m going to open the floor and ask the both of you, how do you see cultural perceptions of influencing the development and reception of initiatives like Agnesud or the Engage with Skills Training program? Now, how do these initiatives challenge or reinforce societal attitudes towards aging?

[00:45:16.380] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
We are completely upfront and honest about the fact that tools like Agnes are, to some degree, quite controversial. Some people believe that the tool reinforces stereotypes of age and of physical aging, whereas others, as we’ve discussed over the last little while, have other perspectives around using it as a tool for knowing and for learning, potentially. I think it’s important to note that, Agnes as a tool is certainly not what everyone’s going to feel like when they get a little older. It’s certainly not also always going to be used in terms of how we use it to represent a particular cumulative instantaneous effect. People truly experience the aging process over our entire lifetimes, and they develop ways of coping or overcompensating or of overcoming the challenges of as the age. I think that’s where it’s also really important to emphasize how We pair these tools with working with older adults directly, with interviews, with more ethnographic work that involves, again, meeting people where they are at in these different kinds of environments that maybe we’re, again, designing sprints or challenges on. I also want to note, too, that with a suit like Agnes, we also are not trying to aging is not synonymous with debilitating decline.

[00:47:03.760] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
There are also strengths and opportunities and really amazing things that people gain as they age. We’re also, again, in this pair of other methods It’s always working in concert with other ways of knowing with Agnes. We’re trying to pull that out, too. Using Agnes in an experience isn’t just a completely negative experience. It is about thinking about where there are opportunities for innovation as a part of the process.

[00:47:35.830] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
I’m really glad you raised that because that is a really important footnote that, I guess, can sometimes be lost in translation. When you’re physically trying this suit on, as Amanda had mentioned, putting the vest on made her slunch over. There’s these feelings that you have as you experience it. But that’s a really interesting interesting and important note to make on that. Amanda, same question. How do you see the cultural perceptions of aging influencing the development of engagement?

[00:48:14.990] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
One of the things that I want to point out that we cover in the training is this concept that aging is not a disease, that it’s not a bad thing. We literally start aging the minute that we’re born. And as Taylor said, it’s this cumulative process, and we adjust, and we adapt, and we make changes, and we get to whatever that looks like for us in our older age. Recently, I heard a statistic that five-year-olds today, our five-year-olds today, roughly 50 % of them are going to live to be 100 or more. So we already have this large population of older adults. We know that the generations coming up are going to be living even longer. And so we have to see a cultural shift in our perspectives on aging. We have to get people to think about what are those strengths that come with it? What are the joy and the experiences that an older adult can still share. There’s many cultures around the world that older adults are well respected and the leaders in the culture and We in America are like, We’re going to put you over here in a corner and you’ve done what you needed to do in your life.

[00:49:38.440] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
I think we’re missing some really great opportunities by not bringing those older adults to the table. When we’re talking about policy changes, when we’re talking about future technology related to aging, when we’re even talking about what is aging care going to look like in 40, 50, 60 years, those older adults have to be at the table. They have to be a part of the discussion, because until we’re actually physically in that moment, we are never going to understand truly what those needs are. And so we need to hear those perspectives. We need to start thinking about aging not as a bad thing, but as something to be celebrated and something to learn from, and giving people that opportunity to still feel like they’re contributing to the world around them.

[00:50:26.550] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
I couldn’t agree more with you, Amanda. I think that’s an excellent point We’re getting close to the end of time here with our discussion today. I’d like to invite both of you to share your final reflections on the future of aging and older adult care. Throughout this conversation today, we’ve traversed the landscape of innovation, empathy, a deep commitment to improving the lives of older adults. But as you know, the journey doesn’t end here. The field of aging and older adult care is ever evolving. It’s facing new challenges and embracing new opportunities within each passing day. Taylor, starting with you, could you share some of your thoughts on what you think the future holds for aging and older adult care?

[00:51:17.970] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
Something I’m really proud of and something I’m really looking ahead to continuing to do work in is thinking about the fun in aging. This is an of all the work that we do at the MIT Age Lab. We have medicalized older age, and we are so much more interested in thinking about how we can make aging fun again. With that in mind, I’m really looking forward to thinking about how the Agnes tool can also be used to help enable us to do that.

[00:51:54.320] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
Amanda, from your perspective, especially with the emphasis of empathy, effective communication, education and respect within the realm of training, what is your vision for the future of older adult care?

[00:52:07.150] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
Fabulous question, and I probably could talk for a really long time on that, but I’ll try to keep it brief. I think We’re at a fork in the road right here. We are at a place where people want to age differently. Our baby boomer generation, they want to be aging in place. They want to continue to be involved, and the generations coming up after that are going to be no different. I’m really excited to see where aging care goes from here because there are so many great opportunities through technology, through education, through training, to get people to think about aging in a more fun way. I smile to myself as Taylor was saying that because that’s one of the things that I think about, too. Aging can be fun, and there’s ways that we can incorporate that in what we’re doing and how we’re supporting older adults as they’re aging, and just recognizing that if we all can come from what I really wrap up as a lens of kindness and bringing this idea of meeting people where they are, if we all have those skills, if every single person who’s interacting with that older adult understands what it means to be respectful and be empathetic and effectively communicate with them, there is going to be an explosion of positivity in the older adult care space.

[00:53:39.790] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
And so my hope and goal is that every single person who’s touching the lives of an older adult can have empathy-based training so that we’re all speaking the same language and we’re all having those more positive, well-balanced interactions.

[00:53:55.590] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
Finally, to the both of you, what call to action would you like to leave our audience with today? How can individuals, organizations, or even communities contribute to a future where aging is embraced with dignity, care, and respect? Then also, what What’s the best way for our audience to learn more about you and the programs you’re spearheading?

[00:54:19.680] – Taylor Patskanick [MIT AgeLab]
Yeah, I, shamelessly, will say that the Age Lab is first and foremost a research lab, and so we would love to meet you. We have a fabulous database on our website. We can be found at agelab. Mit. Edu. Folks can sign up for our research database to be contacted for future studies they may be eligible for. We have a fabulous monthly electronic newsletter that goes out, and that is also available to sign up for on our website. You can hear all about all the latest and greatest coming out of the lab via that as well.

[00:54:57.920] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
Awesome. Thank you, Taylor. What about you, Amanda?

[00:55:01.480] – Amanda Krisher [Engage with®]
My call to action would be share this information far and wide, shout it from the rooftop, get people more involved in the conversation, start thinking about aging in a different way, and That can start with yourself, that can start with your staff, that can start with your family. You can learn more about our Engage with Skills Training programs by visiting Really hope that the tool tools and resources that we’ve made available can be helpful as well. We also have a monthly newsletter. So if you’re not receiving that yet, please sign up to get that in your inbox and just continue to be a champion for aging. That’s what we need in the world right now is people who are excited about it and want to support it and help make the process better.

[00:55:53.630] – Keri [Engaging with Aging]
So in closing, today’s dialog has underscored the complexity and urgency of addressing the needs of our aging population. It’s clear that collaboration, innovation, and empathy are key to forging a future where aging is not just about living longer, but living better. Let’s carry forward the insights and inspirations from today into our work, our communities, and our lives with a commitment to make a positive difference in the world of older adult care. So thank you, everyone, for a wonderful session. Stay safe, stay connected, and we look forward to welcoming you to our next roundtable discussion.