Robin Roberts' Day as an 85-Year-Old

Share
Copy

Moms and daughters often look into each others' eyes and see a version of themselves.

As my mother has grown older, I've watched her start to move more slowly, to struggle. So I wanted to experience -- literally -- what she went through in her everyday life. The goal was not only to look 85, but feel 85.

More than a month ago, "Good Morning America" enlisted the help of Tony Gardner, a top Hollywood makeup artist.

Gardner has created amazing transformations in movies, for example, turning Gwyneth Paltrow into a 300-pound woman in "Shallow Hal."

The first step in my transformation took more than two hours as he covered me with a two-part medical flexible silicone to create a mold of my face. He and his team layered plaster bandages over the silicone to make the final face mold. Weeks later, they returned with 10 pieces that would be the building blocks of my prosthetics.

The day of the transformation, I admit I was skeptical. I had just spent the morning as myself on "GMA." How could this team transport me into another generation both physically and psychologically in just a matter of hours?

Then it started to happen -- the assembling of more than a dozen pieces one step at a time, adding new ears, cheeks, and using several different colors to create skin tones and wrinkles. I watched myself slowly vanish, and I began to see the outlines of my grandmother in the mirror.

It didn't end with the makeup. Next, I met with an engineer from Boeing. The company has developed "the third age suit." It allows you to strap on a set of harnesses that restrict your movement and simulate what it's like to have arthritic pain in your back and joints. As 77 million baby boomers start turning 60 this year, Boeing is using this special suit to understand how its planes can be redesigned for an aging population.

When I put the suit on, suddenly all my joints ached. I couldn't stand up straight, and the smallest movements were a struggle. I felt tired almost immediately.

When I looked in the mirror, the tall, confident athlete of my youth was gone. Everything about me seemed different. I headed out into the world feeling genuinely anxious about how I would make it through the day.

I spent the afternoon with Elinor Ginzler, an aging specialist from AARP. Forty percent of seniors, ages 85 and up, still live in their homes. I wanted to understand what they faced.

Climbing the stairs with no railings was difficult. I probably could not have made it if I didn't have a cane. Even trying to rise out of a chair was hard.

The AARP says that adult children of older parents must investigate homes like detectives. There could be traps at every corner that could hurt moms and dads.

I began to truly appreciate so much of what I'd taken for granted, understanding for the first time the effort it must take my 82-year-old mom to cook even the most simple meal.

My next task was a trip to the grocery store. Because arthritis and cataracts affect more than 50 percent of seniors, I used some props to try to understand what seniors experienced.

First, we placed popcorn in a pair of gloves to simulate the crunch of arthritis. Then we smeared petroleum jelly on a pair of glasses to simulate cataracts.

It was hard reading labels, and as I walked through the store, I actually felt people trying to look away from me. I even heard some teens snickering behind me. The sense of isolation was overwhelming, but I found moments of kindness from strangers.

At the end of the day, I stared in the mirror at this 85-year-old stranger with my eyes. Now every time I see a senior I will look at them with the deepest compassion, the strongest respect. Now I will see the 85-year-old Robin in their eyes.

Join the Discussion
You are using an outdated version of Internet Explorer. Please click here to upgrade your browser in order to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You Might Also Like...