In Koshland Science Museum’s new “Life Lab,” visitors can take a ride through a commercial downtown area and nearby highway in the driving simulator.
They will learn what it is like to drive with older-age vision,text messages coming in or at night when it is harder to see. At the end of the game,a summary tells visitors if they were speeding and how many “collisions” they were in. The game shows visitors how the choice to text can affect their driving,and it shows how vision changes with age. Older peoplelose contrast sensitivity,see things more yellow and lose some peripheral vision.
Erika Shugart,museum deputy director,said there are some misconceptions about the differences between healthy aging and diseased aging that the exhibit aims to clear up.
In a survey,she said people assumed aging was all bad.
“The brain sort of comes along and just dives off a cliff,your neurons die,you get senile – it’s terrible. And what we realize is that science says that’s not necessarily the case,and it doesn’t have to be the case,” Shugart said.
“People can be quite healthy when they get older,” Shugart said.
In the brain garden game,visitors can see how decisions throughout life help or hinder cognitive potential. In the game,flowers represent positive brain development.
The goal is to fill a brain garden with flowers by making positive choices,including playing with others as a toddler,not smoking as a teen and exercising. Some bad choices are worse than others and some,including smoking,are harder to undo. Bad decisions make weeds appear on the screen inside the brain garden.
The game also inserts genetics into brain development. Some genetic “cards” dealt to a player deal with such things as “poor impulse control.” A positive genetics card could include creativity.
One of the game’s goals is to dispel the belief that brain development stops after childhood.
Like the driving simulator’s older-age feature,other games allow visitors to experience what it is like to be an older adult. In a game similar to those for the Xbox Connect,visitors can be a 75 year old woman named Agnes. The name is an acronym for Age Gain Now Empathy System.
By moving their arms,visitors move Agnes’ arms to catch butterflies. As the game progresses,Agnes moves more slowly,and visitors can get an idea of what moving around and grasping objects is like at 75. In another activity,Agnes flips cards more slowly as she ages.
In a memory game,a series of numbers stays on a screen for a few seconds before disappearing to let visitors try to remember the sequence. As the game continues,the series gets longer,making it more difficult to remember.
Shugart said the staff knew the subject was one visitors wanted to see,and the museum had a large amount of recent research.
“We get the input from policy makers,from scientists and from the public and say,‘Well,what is that issue that has everybody concerned and everybody interested,’” Shugart said.
Information for the exhibit comes from work done by the National Research Council Institute of Medicine,the museum’s parent organization.
“In this case there was a lot of material on both aging and on learning and the brain from that institution,” Shugart said.
A part of the exhibit geared toward reducing age discrimination lets visitors record videos about their first memories,favorite memories and their outlook on how their lives are different from what they thought they would be like.
Exercise,diet,sleep and even talking help sharpen your brain,Shugart said.
“When you’re talking to your family,you’re going to be able to remember stuff. … If you’re watching the news,you’re going to understand that better,” she said. “Engaging with people socially is a great exercise for your mind. Having a conversation is a great workout.”
Reach reporter Brooke Kelly [email protected] or 202-326-9866. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire.