I know dozens of tech-savvy senior citizens relying on the latest technology to help with their lives.
Take my own parents, for example: Every morning, my 83-year-old dad rehabs his new Tivanium alloy knee on a recumbent bike while reading the news on his iPhone. He also answers phone calls right inside his ears with nearly invisible, Bluetooth-connected, fancypants high-tech hearings aids.
The same goes for my 77-year-old mom. She goes to YouTube to figure out how to do everything from fixing a lawnmower to antiquing a dresser. She FaceTimes with my daughter regularly and keeps her surprisingly busy schedule neatly organized on her smartphone.
More often than not in recent years, these increasingly high-tech adaptations in a seniors’ daily routine can make life better for both older adults and the people who love them.
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Tech tools for ‘aging in place’
We’re the lucky ones though. My parents are in great health and can afford the modern amenities so many “younger folks” take for granted – like having a reliable internet connection and a smartphone. I’m usually around to help them with whatever they need, whether it’s a new tool to solve a specific problem or provide personal IT support.
While tech use is growing for the rest of the aging population too, it still lags far behind younger generations. Soon, there will be more senior citizens than young people in America. According to Washington-based think-tank Urban Institute, “the number of [people] ages 85 and older, the group most often needing help with basic personal care, will nearly quadruple between 2000 and 2040.”
That means we need more tech that caters to this crowd and gadgets that help the rising tide of people struggling in the sandwich generation. As the pandemic so bleakly underscored, more people than ever are caring for aging loved ones while at the same time raising children and often working full time too.
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Smartphones, webcams and even virtual reality headsets help, but experts say they’re not enough. “Simplification awaits. Whether configuring a smart home, a new device or a phone out of the box, the one-button start-up is still a future [must-have],” Aging and Health Tech Watch principal analyst Laurie Orlov wrote in her 2022 state of the industry report.
The latest tech tools need to provide a watchful eye, critical human connection and renewed comfort for the nearly 80% of people over the age of 50 who want to live out the remainder of their lives in their own homes. They also need to be secure, minimally invasive and easy to use. It’s a tall order, but many companies are at least starting to address it.
There are already some great tools emerging in this space. Here are several of the best I’ve gone hands-on with so far.
ElliQ ($249.99 + $29.99/month) is a friendly little companion robot that sits on a base next to a tablet and comes to life when you engage with it – either by saying “her” name or just by your physical presence in the room. “She” speaks in natural, conversational language – kind of like a cross between Siri and Wall-E – and is billed as the first “digital care companion designed specifically for those aged 65+.”
If she senses that something’s wrong, she can summon help from a pre-programmed list of primary contacts. She can also start up a video call and send text messages. With onboard AI, ElliQ can pick up patterns, learn daily routines and remember what you tell her, which adds a level of empathy and personalization to the whole experience.
Tablets designed for people 75+
The GrandPad ($57/month for annual plan, $89 for month-by-month) is a high-tech tablet built specifically for people who might otherwise get turned off by tech. It comes preprogrammed with easy-to-see categories, so all you have to do is plug it in and go. Built-in 4GLTE means it can connect anytime, anywhere, with no Wi-Fi to worry about, another key feature since many assisted living facilities have poor or spotty internet service.
It comes with built-in games, music streaming, private family photo and video streams and an easy-to-use Zoom app for multi-party video calls. If there’s a problem, a simple tap brings up a support agent any time of the day or night.
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Animatronic pet pals
Studies show that pets help overall health, combatting loneliness and social isolation. To get the joy of a pet without the work, take a look at Ageless Innovations’ Joy for All Companion animatronic pals, including the brand-new Walker Squawker ($64.99, available in June).
This latest animatronic pet is the idea of 93-year-old Rita Melone. She brought the concept to Ageless Innovations after forgetting to use her walker when she stood up. She wanted something small enough to perch atop her actual metal walker but pleasant enough to live with day in and out.
You can hold the palm-sized bird or set it atop the included magnet on a Velcro strap that loops around a walker rail. It chirps, responds to whistling and answers a few gentle pats on the back of its head with a sweet little Tribble-like coo’ing.
The Walker Squawker joins the already popular Ageless Innovation pups and cats that I’ve covered quite a few times before. The Pups ($139.99) bark and Cats ($124.99) meow, turn their head at the sound of your voice, respond to touch and you even feel a heartbeat when you hug them.
A more proactive pill dispenser
Remembering to take your prescriptions can be difficult for anyone, but it’s especially important as we grow older and have more complex medication needs. The Hero pill dispenser ($99.99 + $24.99/month) is a countertop device about the size of a small coffee maker. It stores, sorts and dispenses up to a 90-day supply of 10 different medications.
You can pour pills into a cartridge and slide it into the dispenser without having to count or sort anything – it’s all automatic. The companion app sends alerts when it’s time to take a dose and provides real-time adherence data to caregivers and families looking after their loved ones.
One of my only complaints is that you have to set it all up with arrows, sort of like older versions of smart TV remotes, versus the more straightforward push-to-program touchscreen. For that reason, it requires more set-up than most other gadgets on this list, so be sure either help with the set-up yourself or be ready to find someone who can.
Next-gen ‘I’ve fallen and can’t get up’
Falls and accidents – either at home or on the go – are a huge problem for older adults trying to live independent lives. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 older adults fall each year, making falls the leading cause of injury-related death among older adults in the U.S. That’s an alarming number, but personal medical devices like the ($37.95/month) can help.
The Sidekick is a small, lightweight wearable with a help button that summons emergency support at a moment’s notice. With built-in GPS and advanced fall detection, it knows if help is needed and points responders to the exact location.
For a look at what’s to come in this category, check out the Tango Belt (currently in clinical trials). This “smart belt” can sense a serious hip-impacting fall, deploy airbags around the hips and alert caregivers for help. It’s in the middle of a clinical trial and is due out next year.