Spending a day as an elderly person

Being old isn't easy.

Angela Ouyang
Angela Ouyang

Published: 18 October 2016, 12:00 AM

I had the opportunity to experience the life of an elderly last weekend. While the whole experience lasted less than two hours, I was already starting to treasure my youth 30 minutes into the aging simulation session.

Held at The Red Box, the aging simulation session hoped to help youths understand and empathise with the pioneer generation.


Attendees of the aging simulation, held by Youth Corps Singapore and Etch Empathy, were filled with verve.


To help us get into character, I had to wear a heavy vest, arm and ankle weights, and elbow and knee guards.

Almost immediately, I felt the impact of the weights on my body. Being an unusually weak youth, I found it a chore to even raise my hands anywhere above my chest level.

Adding on to the difficulty, I was told to put on gloves for reduced sense of touch, goggles for yellow vision, and a pair of earmuffs for reduced sense of hearing.

I don’t think I’ve heard that many “Huh?”s in a day. It was even more upsetting when some booth owners treated us with contempt due to our inability to communicate normally. Getting frustrated at the slow movements of elderly citizens suddenly seems even less justified.

At the start of the simulation, we were given two green chips and one yellow chip. Green chips represent health, while yellow chips represent wealth.


We were given chips and personalised name cards.


We were tasked to collect five of each chip by the end of the simulation, by visiting the various booths that were set up. Losing all green chips would land us in the, gulps, cemetery.

Together with 20 other participants, we roamed around the small room and explored the different booths. After all, we had to find a job, go for medical check-ups, buy food or indulge in recreational activities. Nobody has time to sit around, though I desperately felt like doing so.


All I wanted was to sit down all day.


At the end of the session, I ended up with three yellow chips and only one green chip. Pathetic, I know.

Before you start to make judgments, let me clarify that it is not easy, because I had to compete with other “old men and women” who were desperate for the limited number of jobs offered.


We competed with each other to fill up our job application forms before the slots were full.


We were sometimes treated with hostility for our slow actions and inability to hear carefully, and our movements, sight and hearing were hindered.

To add to our woes, there was a “Lady Luck” character walking around, raining either blessings or curses on us. Based on what we picked from her box of prophecies, chips would be rewarded or taken away from us.


Lady Luck (right) with her unlucky box.


While I picked an “Abandoned by children” card, my friend managed to pick “Heart disease”, leaving the both of us one chip away from death. I guess Lady Luck wasn’t on our sides that Saturday afternoon.

It dawned on me how realistic the experience is. It may seem unfair in the simulation, but was it fair for the elderly, who have to face these problems in reality? My respect goes to them.

Thankfully, “night time” arrived in 15 minute intervals. I found myself looking forward to the end of each hypothetical day, where we get to sit down.

The cycle repeated four times. By “Day Two”, my back started to ache and the seats were seemingly calling me over for a slumber party. I also became visibly more frustrated whenever I was not capable of being nimble in doing little things, like picking up a chip on the floor.

It was barely two hours before the simulation ended, but it felt like I managed to experienced what forever felt like.

Difficult as it may be, I am thankful for the opportunity to relate to the older generation, doing the things they do and feeling their everyday emotions. Now, we really have to step back and think before getting impatient when communicating with them.

It was eye-opening, knowing that what I faced for a few hours were actual problems the elderly has to face on a daily basis. Forming an understanding of being old, I found a new appreciation towards people from another generation and their strength to live out their lives to the fullest.

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