Lifestyle & Belief

'A Dialogue With Time': An Exhibit About What is Feels Like to Get Old

An Israeli children's museum has opened what it says is the world's first museum exhibit simulating what it's like to get old. It's called "A Dialogue with Time".

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Tour groups get their photos taken at the start of the exhibit. Later on a large screen they see what they'll look like when they're 80 years old — wrinkles, sagging skin and all.

A tick-tock accompanies visitors through a zigzagged corridor plastered with questions written in English, Hebrew and Arabic: How old are you? How old do you feel? Do you look older or younger than your age?

The corridor leads to a room filled with interactive simulations that put the visitor in an elderly person's shoes. One simulation does that quite literally: Visitors wear weighted shoes and walk up some stairs. Elderly people have trouble climbing steps — people lose muscle mass as they age.

There's also a device that visitors strap to their hand, causing it to shake — simulating tremors — while they try to thread a key through a keyhole to open a door.

At another station, visitors pick up a phone and try to order movie tickets through an automated message, while every once in a while the volume drops — simulating what it's like for elderly people who are hard of hearing.

The exhibit was developed by Dialogue Social Enterprise, a German organization. It designed two other museum exhibits that have toured throughout the world. Visitors fumble in pitch black at "A Dialogue in the Dark," which simulates what it's like to be blind. The tour guides themselves are blind.

At the other exhibit, "A Dialogue in Silence," visitors wear earplugs to simulate what it's like to be deaf. The tour guides there are hearing-impaired.

The tour guides at the newest exhibit, "A Dialogue with Time," are — you guessed it — old.

"In every old person, there's a small child who is bewildered by the fact of what happened to him," said Emanuel Dudai, 73, a tour guide at the exhibit. "In myself, I am an old child."

Dudai takes a group of visitors through a series of rooms that challenge common notions of aging. At one point he conducts a survey: "Do you see a male, 70 years old, as a pilot?" he asks the visitors. Most of the group says no.

"What's his ability to focus? There are lives at stake," says Sarah Gopher-Stevens, an Israeli visiting from California.

But then Dudai plays a short video, featuring an Israeli aviation expert who argues that older pilots are more experienced than younger ones, and, no matter their age, pilots have to pass regular tests to prove they can safely fly a plane. Many people, Dudai says, are guilty of ageism – favoring age over ability.

The exhibit doesn't mention the most serious physical and mental degradation that many elderly people experience. Exhibit manager Moran Bodner says that's on purpose.

"Eighty percent of old people in Israel are living a normal life, are very independent, and they don't need help. Only 20 percent need nursing care," Bodner said. "We wanted to show a true picture of what it means to be old in this country."

For tour guide Dudai, and many in Israel, making it to a ripe old age takes on an additional meaning.

"I didn't have a family. I invented a grandmother. I envied my friends who had a grandmother, because all my family perished in the Holocaust," Dudai said. "I am part of the generation that saw this country in the making. And I didn't have time to think that I am getting old. I became old. And I like it."

"A Dialogue with Time," which opened last month at the Israel Children's Museum in Holon, near Tel Aviv, is next set to open in Germany.

There's also interest in exhibiting it in China and France, too.

Why wouldn't there be? By the time you finish reading — or listening to — this story, everyone on this planet will have grown just a little bit older.

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    Visitors to the exhibit enter a zigzag corridor of questions about age and aging. (Photo: Daniel Estrin)
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    Emanuel Dudai, 73, is a tour guide at the exhibit, called Dialogue with Time. (Photo: Daniel Estrin)
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    Interactive simulations put visitors in an elderly person's shoes -- including weighted shoes which visitors wear as they climb stairs, simulating the muscle degeneration of many elderly people. (Photo: Daniel Estrin)

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