Technology Gifts to Simplify Life for Your Aging Loved One (or Make It More Fun)

In an interview with Jon Stein, a Forbes Contributor, technology journalist Lary Magid makes a strong statement about baby boomers and technology: “It’s stupid and insulting to pitch baby boomers as tech novices.” His statement was prompted by an email he received from a PR rep pushing a touch screen computer for older people who want to “get on board with technology.” As Magid points out, “Many of us used CP/M, DOS or even Unix long before Macs and PCs had graphical user interfaces. We were the ones who had to know how to use escape codes to get our printers to work and sometimes wound up building our own PCs.”

Boomers and seniors are more tech-savvy than you may think

So, where has the idea come from that baby boomers and older Americans are not astute in their technology use? In the Stein article, Patricia McDonough, senior VP-analysis at Nielsen Co., says, “It’s actually a myth that baby boomers aren’t into technology. They represent 25% of the population, but they consume 40% [in total dollars spent] of it.” In fact, the numbers from an April report from the PewResearch Internet Project reveal that 59% of seniors report they go online. Additionally, 77% of older adults have a cell phone (18% own a smartphone), and 27% of seniors own a tablet, an e-book reader, or both. The statistics definitely support the notion that baby boomers and older Americans are using, and enjoying, technology. The myth, more than likely, is due to the fact that usage rates among seniors trail those of the overall population: 86% of all U.S. adults now go online.

Most seniors are on the Internet daily

The report also points out that once U.S. adults age 65 and older do make the online jump, 71% go online every day or almost every day, and 11% go online 3-5 times per week. Furthermore, older internet users have very positive attitudes about how online information benefits them: 79% of older internet users agree that “people without internet access are at a real disadvantage because of all the information they might be missing,” and 94% agree that “the internet makes it much easier to find information today than in the past.” Overall, the statistics support the ideas that seniors can and do use technology and that they see the benefits of doing so. With seniors embracing and enjoying technology this much, and with shopping “holidays” like Black Friday and Cyber Monday just around the corner, it makes sense for you to give them the gift of technology. 

Smart phones, tablets, and e-readers

According to a report, eight of the world’s 10 best-selling smart phones are made by Apple or Samsung. Apple’s iPhone 5s was the hottest selling phone, beating out the Samsung S5 and S4. The ranking was based on smartphone sales from 35 countries. With their popularity and widespread use, these smart phones would make great gifts for your aging loved ones. Plus, the phones store contact information, pictures, videos, and more, to keep your loved ones connected with the entire family. Loved ones also can take advantage of all of the mobile apps available for the phones – everything from medication management apps to physical activity trackers to games are ready and waiting for them in the App Store and on Google Play.

Tablets are another great tech gift idea for your aging loved one. An International Business Times article summarized Gartner’s data on 2013 tablet sales, which revealed that tablet sales grew 68% from 2012 to 2013. Apple’s iPads remain the most popular individual tablet, with 36% of the market; Samsung’s Galaxy Tablets come in second with 19% of the total sales. For older Americans, the Apple iPad mini is a great choice, because it is smaller, lighter, and more affordable than the standard iPad. The iPad mini comes loaded with built-in apps to get your loved ones started on the internet, with email, photos, iBooks, maps, FaceTime, contacts, and more.

As for e-readers, CNET ranked the best of the best, and the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (2013) came out on top. Calling it the “best e-reader currently available,” CNET explains that Amazon improved the Paperwhite with a faster processor, more responsive touch screen, and a better integrated light that’s brighter and whiter and displays more evenly across the screen. These are just a few of the reasons that make Paperwhite the best choice for your aging loved one. Plus, the benefits that come from the improvements mean that seniors can read anywhere – even outside – without any screen glare and without eyestrain.

Technology Gifts for the Home

Technology is more than just about smart phones, tablets, and e-readers. So, when you are starting to think about your holiday gift lists for this upcoming season, consider the tech gifts that can make life for your older loved one more simple and maybe even more fun, while at home.

Lutron’s Maestro Occupancy/Vacancy Sensors are a gift that keep on giving because they turn lights off when you leave, helping your loved one to save energy. Better yet, they turn on when someone enters a room, so your aging loved one does not have to worry about coming home to a dark house or fumbling for the light switch in the middle of the night. Saftey, security, and convenience are all a part of the Lutron sensors.

Control4 provides home automation and smart home control, and their solutions integrate with iPads, iPhones, and Android smartphones and tablets. Control4 allows you to begin with one room or automate your whole home all at once. Some of the options included with Control4’s solutions are perfect for your aging loved one. A “wake up” scene automatically adjusts the thermostat and gradually turns up lights each morning, and the “goodbye” button will lock the doors, set the alarm system, turn off the lights, and adjust the thermostat when people leave. Your loved one won’t have to worry about controlling much of anything in the home, and if your loved one is preparing to age in place, Control4 can alert you to movement in the home or even if there is a water leak. Control4 is a great gift of convenience for your loved one, and it provides you with the gift of peace of mind.

The Nest Protect Smoke Detector is a smoke and carbon-monoxide detector that is a great choice for older family members. Rather than setting off an ear-piercing or high-pitched alarm, Nest Protect first alerts you to the problem by telling you what it is and where it is. Protect also takes the guesswork out of when to change the batteries in the smoke detector; thanks to its Nightly Promise, Protect’s light ring will quickly glow green to show the batteries are working, or it will glow yellow if there is a problem like the batteries need replacing. Best of all, Nest Protect will send messages to smart phones or tablets if there is a problem, or you can open the Nest app at any time, so you and your loved one can have peace of mind.

Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth speaker is a perfect gift idea for anyone, but it’s an especially good choice for seniors. Bose already is a popular choice for speakers among older adults, but now Bose has entered the high-tech world with its SoundLink Mini. It wirelessly connects to smartphones, tablets, or other Bluetooth devices, and it weighs in at 1.5 pounds so it is easy to take anywhere. Your aging loved one will be able to listen to their favorite music anywhere, any time, and because it is a Bose, the SoundLink Mini delivers advanced audio with full-range sound. Its simple, compact design is ideal for your aging loved one – after you’ve gotten them that smartphone or tablet, of course.

The Best Technology Gift for Fun

For years, researchers and doctors have been touting the benefits of playing games and remaining mentally sharp for seniors to stave off the mental decline often associated with aging. But, one newer form of gaming for seniors is becoming more popular and more widely prescribed by health care providers: video gaming. In an overview of the benefits of playing video games, The Economist describes a study conducted by Dr. Adam Gazzaley of the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Gazzaley tested a group of participants aged 60 to 85 and found that, upon playing a video game at home in an adaptive mode for three hours a week over a month, they had greatly improved multi-tasking abilities and other improved aspects of cognition, including working memory. Even more astounding was the fact that even after a six-month hiatus from the video games, the participants were “still nimble-minded.”

So, which video games are the best for seniors? Diana Rodriguez explains in her article that one study, presented at the Gerontological Society of America’s Annual Scientific Meeting, found that seniors who played Nintendo Wii for an hour a week reported higher positive mood and fewer feelings of loneliness than seniors who watched television. In addition, a study done at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, reported that “1/3 of participants who played an exercise game on the Wii reported a 50% or greater reduction in depressive symptoms.”

As if the scientific evidence weren’t enough, Wii mini is a great gift idea for your aging loved ones because seniors who have played Wii games love them. In a Chicago Tribune article describing the fun seniors have while playing a Wii, reporter Geoff Ziezulewicz found seniors at Bolingbrook’s Heritage Woods assisted living community are hooked on Wii bowling. The seniors found that the Wii was easy to use and got people out of their rooms, playing and socializing. 86-year-old Elsie Sottile even admitted the games get serious: “It might be leisure, but we’re fighting.” Who needs a better review than that?

Of course, the list of potential technology gifts for your aging loved one is long. We’ve suggested a few of the most easily accessible, popular, and convenient gifts to simplify life and add a little fun for your older relatives. Have a different suggestion? We’d love to hear from you in the comments. Happy shopping!

Images via Flickr by Symo0Markus Spiering and Amnestic_Arts

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