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May 26, 2008

Press Release: Martinsville Bulletin

Monday, May 26, 2008

By MICKEY POWELL - Bulletin Staff Writer

Dare to find out what you may look like in 20 years.

Stop by the Virginia Museum of Natural History's newest exhibit, "Amazing Feats of Aging," and put your face up to The Age Machine. In just a moment, your suddenly aged face pops up on a nearby monitor, wrinkled and sagging.

"I think it overdid it" a little with the wrinkles, Jarrett Sell of Martinsville said Thursday afternoon after he tried the machine. Still, "it was neat to see."?

Ryan Barber, the museum's director of marketing and external affairs, tried the machine. He wasn't angry at what he saw, but he wasn't pleased, either.

"It's a little scary," he admitted. "I was surprised at the number of wrinkles" and the sagging of his lower face. "At least I had all of my hair."?

Don't take the machine too seriously, though. The machine simply places wrinkles and sags on faces where people are most likely to get them.

Faces age differently, based on factors such as exposure to sunlight and how much a person has used alcohol and/or tobacco, Barber pointed out. Therefore, how a person looks on the monitor is not necessarily how the person will look a couple of decades from now.

But does anybody really want to know how they are going to look in 20 to 25 years? Apparently, there are a few brave souls.

Before the exhibit officially opened Saturday, a few school groups and others had sneak peaks.

"The first thing they said was they're not going to do that (look at their aged faces). Then they lined up to do it," said Barber.

Many museum employees have used the machine - some maybe having succumbed to peer pressure, he laughed.

"Amazing Feats of Aging" focuses on science related to aging, with special emphasis on healthy aging, as well as how the brain and animals age.

According to Barber, everybody eventually is affected by the aging of their grandparents, parents and themselves, so the topic should be interesting. Yet generally, the study of aging is important due to the rapid growth of the elderly population, impacts of choices people make in life on their health and discoveries constantly being made in the field of gerontology, he said.
Aging is "a serious topic," he added. "I think the exhibit does a good job presenting it in a fun way."

Barber said the museum wants visitors to realize that aging is unavoidable. Still, there are things people can do to age gracefully and reduce the effects of aging on their bodies.

The exhibit has a carnival theme. Visitors can stop by specific stations, like they would game booths at a carnival, and take part in activities surrounding three main topics: "Mysteries of Aging Revealed," "The Amazing Aging Brain" and "The Wild World of Aging."

One station says that a major factor related to aging is the loss of collagen, a protein that gives skin strength and resilience. Collagen loss also can cause hardening of the arteries, cataracts, stiff joints and other problems.

Want to find out how old you are without looking at your birth certificate? Stop by a station that features items from several generations. Among them are a Smurf, a 45 rpm record, an eight-track tape, a small World War II poster and a "conversation tube" - perhaps better known as an ear trumpet.

The more of those items you can identify, the older you are. But there is a consolation to being older, the display mentions: You have more knowledge and experience than younger people. (Feel better?)

Other exhibit activities include:

"Exploring the human body and learning which types of cells are younger and older than others. One station mentions that the body contains about 100 trillion cells, and each day, about 10 trillion of those cells are replaced, although certain cells are replaced more than others.

"Analyzing the human brain to learn how the brain's normal aging process differs from changes caused by Alzheimer's disease.

"Learning about the aging process of animals, including the giant tortoise that never seems to age.

"Amazing Feats of Aging" runs through Sept. 7 at the museum on Starling Avenue in Martinsville. It is sponsored by King's Grant retirement community and the Southern Area Agency on Aging with support from the Alzheimer's Association and the Virginia Agency for the Aging Regular admission charges will cover the exhibit.