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Making Health & Old Age Fun: Dr. Oz, Joe Coughlin & MIT AgeLab’s AGNES

AGNES (Age Gain Now Empathy System) was developed atthe MIT AgeLabto provide a tool for students, researchers, government agencies and companiesto better understand, empathize and develop innovations to meet the uniqueneeds of older adults (see Fast Company Magazine’s interview with myAgeLab colleagues Roz Puleo and Lisa D’Ambrosio on AGNES). While there isconsiderable diversity in capability among older adults, AGNES provides an ‘ahamoment’ for someone who understands design and technology. In their headsengineers and designers know what’s possible, with AGNES on their bodies theycan quickly connect limits to solutions – how a product can be rethought, aservice reengineered or an environment redesigned. Surveys, in-depthinterviews, ethnographic studies, focus groups usability experiments are allvaluable tools to inform innovators about the attitudes and behaviors of olderconsumers. But, in many cases consumers cope rather than complain. AGNES isanother tool – not a replacement for other methods. This week AGNES went beyondbeing a tool for designers, engineers and marketers.

I had the pleasure to appear on the Dr. Oz Show.Dr. Oz has been a quick media success in the short time he has been on the air.A Harvard-trained physician he has been able to achieve something that mosthealth professionals have not had much luck doing – engaging the consumer onhealth.

How? Facts? Fear? Perhaps some of those.But, the secret sauce appears to be adding something else – fun. When was the lasttime you heard ‘fun’ and health in the same sentence? Clinicians, public andprivate insurers and most employers have tried to engage the public on wellnessbehaviors, chronic disease management, good nutrition, and exercise and havehad mixed results.

Joe Coughlin, Dr. Oz & MIT AgeLab student Katii Gullick
 as AGNES on the Dr. Oz Show set in New York City

Dr. Oz mixed his unique communicationsskills, medical insights along with a little fun turning AGNES into a teaching tool. Not for students,researchers, designers and engineers but for the rest of us. On the show AGNESbecame a symbol of one possible future that everyone should consider and takeaction to manage. Another future, one that has a longer period of well-beingand independence, may be had by following a different course of behaviors – eating a balanceddiet, exercising regularly, taking supplements, etc. Clearly well-being dependson more than these actions alone (many factors are beyond the control of theindividual) but they are a good start.

Enjoy this Dr. Oz segment (click hereto view television segment on Dr. Oz site) where I, Dr. Oz, a spirited memberof the audience and my student Katii Gulick (behind the scenes and featured as AGNES in the New York Times)…and AGNES…have some fun and show some of thethings you can do to live longer and better.


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