Seniors are living in a technological golden age, with an array of devices and apps that can not only keep seniors active and safe, but also help them maintain their independence until retirement.
To stay on the cutting edge of technology, retirees need to focus on their goal, whether it’s getting in shape, learning new skills, social interactions or something else, says Tom Kamber, executive director of technology services for seniors at AARP, which creates technology programs for seniors.
If a retiree wants to own a single device, Kamber recommends using a simple portable device with a large screen that allows typing, such as a tablet or a Chromebook with a keyboard. Ensure emergency contacts can be found quickly on the device in times of crisis. “If you end up in the hospital, what devices will you have with you? This is going to be your lifeline,” he says.
Wearable devices make it easier to stay active at any age, and the
The watch dominates the industry with its many built-in health-related functions. Its senior-focused features include a fall detector and an emergency feature that calls 9-1-1. Alternatives to the Apple Watch include Samsung, Garmin, and Fitbit.
Many of these watches have workout programs that can be done independently or in a group. Group activities can make otherwise sedentary people more active, says Steve Ewell, executive director of the Consumer Technology Association Foundation, especially if there’s a fun or competitive aspect to the program.
Additionally, older adults who are hesitant to wear other medical alert devices may be more likely to wear an attractive smartwatch. “People want the same device they see their friends, family members and other people wearing,” Ewell says.
Wearable devices can help caregivers or family members keep an eye on the wearer if the user is willing to share these statistics. For example, if a retiree normally takes 8,000 or 10,000 steps a day, but one day only shows 1,000 steps, this anomaly may prompt a caregiver to check in.
“They may not have charged the watch. Or they may have fallen off or had some other problem,” Ewell explains.
Technology still lags behind in a common garment for seniors: hearing aids. The best hearing aids are expensive and not covered by health insurance, and many inexpensive devices malfunction and all require a prescription. Also, many older people don’t want to wear them because they don’t want to look old. A rule proposed by the Food and Drug Administration to allow people to buy hearing aids without a prescription could encourage more companies to explore this market.
Ewell says smart speakers with voice-assist technology, such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, or Apple’s Siri, can have the biggest impact on older adults, especially if they’re older. synchronized with other products such as smart lighting, smart thermostats and smart doorbells. Research from the CTA Foundation shows that most seniors find smart speakers easy to use with voice commands.
He suggests owning a speakerphone with a video monitor, like Amazon’s Echo Show. When connected to a video doorbell, seniors can see on the screen who is there and communicate without having to open the door. Users can also download a phone’s contact list, allowing the device to call loved ones by voice command. The visual aspect can reduce the loneliness and isolation seniors sometimes feel in a way that audio-only phone calls and emails might not.
“It’s not a substitute for being in person,” Ewell says, but “having these screens built into these devices really helps with some of the challenges of isolation.”
Kamber says it’s a good idea to pair tech efficiencies with their analog predecessors in the event of an emergency, such as due to a technical glitch or a power outage. Also important is making sure a family member or neighbor knows how to operate the system.
For people who might be concerned about privacy, Kamber says it’s important to use best practices when using technology, such as using strong passwords, performing updates software updates and the purchase of well-known brands. Taking these steps will help reduce the risk of hacking, and there are ways to limit the information shared with businesses.
“For the majority of users, the benefits of adopting smart home devices outweigh the security challenges once these precautions are taken,” he says.
Amy Fuchs, program coordinator at Bridging Apps, says there are a number of smartphone apps aimed at seniors that are free or low-cost. Bridging Apps, a program of Easter Seals Greater Houston, reviews a number of apps on its website and compiles them into categories, including: Adults and Seniors, Music, Trackers, Wellness and Other Apps.
Among the most popular apps for seniors are medication trackers, and one of the organization’s recommendations is Medisafe. Users take a photo of the pill and create a virtual medicine cabinet. The app also tracks medication usage, sends reminders, and can share information with doctors and caregivers.
Fuchs says people with dementia or beginning to experience memory loss can benefit from reminiscence therapy because seeing images from their past or popular past objects can signal memories. My House of Memories is designed for people with dementia and their caregivers. It allows users to browse objects and upload photos to encourage sharing and discussion. A similar app, Memory Lane, turns memories into quizzes for seniors. For relaxation and stress relief, she also recommends mindfulness apps like Calm and Plum Village, which offer guided meditations.
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