Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Deflating Myths about the Aging Process ; A New Museum Exhibit Explores Social Attitudes about Growing Old, and Puts a Human Face on Aging

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Deflating Myths about the Aging Process ; A New Museum Exhibit Explores Social Attitudes about Growing Old, and Puts a Human Face on Aging

Article excerpt

Aging is not a topic many people like to think about. Older individuals are often seen as pushed to the margins of society, misrepresented in the media, and their contributions undervalued.

An interactive museum exhibit may help change these misperceptions. And not a moment too soon. Seniors 80 and older are the fastest-growing age group in the United States, Japan, and Europe. By the year 2100, 5 million people will have reached their 100th birthday, compared with an estimated 70,000 today.

"Secrets of Aging" recently opened at Boston's Museum of Science in response to a visitor survey that ranked aging as the No. 1 topic of interest. The show not only explores longevity, but celebrates the increasing wisdom and varied experiences of elders.

Developed by the museum with the Science Museum Exhibit Collaborative, the show features a variety of hands-on exhibits, interactive programs, videos, and live performance.

The exhibit offers a great deal of scientific and medical research on the physical process of aging, as well as the effects of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors.

As you might expect, it presents many of the conventionally held opinions about human aging. But it also stretches beyond this point of view and seeks to change some of the negative perceptions of the subject.

A variety of booths and games show how aging can change an individual's perception of sight, smell, taste, and other sensory experiences. The interactive t'ai chi ch'uan exhibits allows visitors to experience the gentle Chinese martial art form. Visitors can try some simple tai chi moves by matching their shadow to the movements of a silhouette projected on a blank screen.

The most affecting aspects of the show are those that explore the emotional and sociological impacts of aging, helping to put a personal face on the subject.

This was reflected in the comments of visiting student Clay Ciccariello, who summed up the exhibit, saying, "It helps me see that you're not that different when you are older."

Sprinkled throughout the exhibit are eight life-size 3-D figures that speak as visitors walk by. Each has its own distinct personality, imparts a different personal statement on the process of aging, and acts as a virtual tour guide for the exhibit.

Visitors are invited to look into mirrored portholes that allow one to peer through another's eyes and imagine what it would be like to be another age, another person. There are exhibits that explore different social circles in diverse cultures, showing how a society's perception of age can both define and constrain. One area focuses on centenarians - who they are, their effect on society, and some myths of longevity. (The documented age record is still held by Frenchwoman Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122.)

Another cluster includes videos of children in conversation with their grandparents and a photo essay that extols some of the positive attitudes that contribute to full, active, and pleasurable lives. …

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