Archive for the ‘Technology for Seniors and Caregivers’ Category

Aging in Place Safely: Home Automation for Seniors



As many seniors opt to age in place and live their golden years in the comfort and familiarity of their own homes, it’s natural for loved ones to want to ensure their safety when they can’t be around or when hiring a caregiver isn’t an option. The current slate of home automation devices in stores today offer practical solutions for keeping a helpful eye on seniors without feeling like an intrusion on their privacy. And since the gadgets available are so user-friendly, the high barrier to entry that once existed with products like Wi-Fi-enabled video cameras and smart home hubs no longer exists.

Today’s technological solutions are designed to be used right out of the box, meaning little installation is required. The days of dozens of cords and a novel-sized product manual are behind us. The seven home automation gadgets we’ve highlighted here not only provide ease of use, but peace of mind for seniors and their loved ones.

  1. Wi-Fi Video Camera

A Wi-Fi smart home camera allows seniors to verify that their homes and pets are safe while they’re away. For older adults living on their own, installing these cameras in a hallway, living room or any other space in the home will help family members keep a respectful eye on their aging loved one. The password-protected live stream of an Internet-connected video camera can be accessed on the camera’s website or a specially designed app. These cameras are particularly useful as an automatic communications device; many models have two-way audio to allow both the person in the room and the one watching remotely to speak to one another.

  1. Remote-Controlled Lighting

Thankfully, the era of the Clapper being the hottest thing in home lighting solutions is behind us. Now lights can be controlled via remote control, smartphone or even a smartwatch. Systems like the Lutron Caseta Lighting Kit let residents create schedules that adjust lights at specific times. The lights are also equipped to sense when a resident is approaching and illuminate at that moment, so there’s no need to shuffle around in the dark and potentially cause an accident.

  1. Smart Home Hub

Visions of yelling into a machine often pass through people’s minds when voice recognition products are mentioned. Yet, the technology has gotten so advanced that controlling any sort of voice-activated gadget is now more like speaking to someone sitting next to you, which is why home automation hubs like the Amazon Echo can be so effective for seniors at home. The device acts as the catch-all for activating things like streaming radio, audiobooks, getting the day’s weather report and even controlling other smart gadgets around the home.

  1. Automated Door Lock

Caregivers and extended family members may want to opt for a high-tech front door, as it allows them to control entry into the home without the old-school safety issues of leaving a key under the mat. Automated locks offer the ability to create unique digital codes for multiple users who need access, such as caregivers or other family members. The codes can also be changed at any time, which is a much easier solution than changing locks due to lost keys.

  1. Robot Vacuum

Lifting couches and crouching under beds to clean hard-to-reach places is a challenge that’s insurmountable for many elderly adults. Robotic cleaning gadgets eliminate the need for this.. Users can create schedules that signal when the vacuum should remove itself from its dock and start cleaning the floors. Most models automatically adjust as they move from carpet to hardwood to tile, so that every square inch of the floor is cleaned.

  1. Smart Smoke Detector

A smoke and carbon monoxide detector that requires little upkeep can be a dream come true for anyone who’s been woken by a detector that won’t stop chirping or who’s struggled to change a dead battery. A smart smoke and carbon monoxide detector like the Nest Protect lasts for up to a decade. It also helps cut down on false alarms while saving peace of mind by sending smartphone alerts should anything ever be amiss.

  1. Smart Sensors

Multi-purpose sensors can be used in all sorts of useful scenarios like detecting the buzz that signals the end of a washing machine cycle or a knock on the door. Elder caregivers and other family members will find it most useful for alerting when any doors or windows open, so that they can monitor who is coming into a house and, most importantly, when their loved one exits the house and returns safely home.

With smart technology now more user-friendly than ever, even seniors with little tech experience should find that home automation helps them age in place safely.

Kelly Schwarze writes about smart home technology, including how new products can improve the lives of seniors. Kelly provides her insight online for Home Depot. To research a large variety of smart home tech products, you can visit Home Depot’s website.

My Grandma Wants an Apple Watch (and Other Conundrums of the Wearable Tech Era)

It’s been more than a month since the Apple Watch’s release. You like the idea of Grandma having one so she can stay in contact. But after all the hype, is it worth it? Is it a product that Grandma will actually use? Let’s take a look at the pros and cons to see if the Apple Watch is something Grandma should get.

What is Grandma’s ideal smartwatch?

First things first: You need to ask if Grandma is willing to wear a watch in the first place. If that’s a yes, then you can move onto the next step, which is figuring out what you both want from a smartwatch. On my list for Grandma I have:

  • affordable
  • easy to use
  • long battery life
  • ability to easily send and receive calls and texts
  • ability to call for help in an emergency 

Why an Apple Watch?

The Apple Watch has some exciting features that make it stand out.

  • Notifications—Using Taptic technology, notifications feel like a tap on the wrist. She will no longer miss your messages.
  • Quick responses—Grandma can choose from prewritten text messages or use Siri to reply to you directly from the watch.
  • Customizable watch face—Whether she wants an analog clock, digital numbers or a visualization of the sun’s location in the sky, there’s a watch face Grandma will like.
  • Interchangeable watch band—The watch bands are easy to adjust and easy to change. Grandma can mix and match her styles.
  • Heartbeat sensor—Get an idea of Grandma’s general fitness level by tracking her heartbeat.
  • Fitness tracking—The watch contains an accelerometer that helps determine the wearer’s activity level. Great for encouraging Grandma to stay active.
  • Activity reminder—Does Grandma get stuck on the couch for hours at a time? The watch can tap her to remind her to get up and move so her joints don’t stiffen up.

There is an exciting future for the health applications of the watch. With the heartbeat sensor, an app could alert you if something goes wrong with Grandma’s heart and send for help. But unfortunately, the technology and app development is not quite ready to support this vision yet.

Why Not an Apple Watch?

The Apple Watch is not perfect. As a first generation product, it has many ways it could (and likely will) be improved. Some of its limitations include:

  • Too many notifications—If Grandma gets a lot of notifications on her phone, the constant reminders on her wrist will drive her crazy. You will need to set up filters for her so only the important notifications get through.
  • Battery life—The battery has turned out to be better than expected, but it still should be charged it every night. Forgetting means running low the second day.
  • Not waterproof—Grandma can wash her hands, but she shouldn’t submerge the watch in water.
  • Small screen—The screen is small and can be hard to read with aging eyes. It is difficult to tap precisely on such a small space, even with the digital crown as the main way to navigate.
  • Needs an iPhone—In order to use most of the watch’s functionality, including texting, making calls or using GPS, Grandma will need to have her iPhone nearby. The Apple Watch is a companion device, not a standalone product. This means the watch isn’t a replacement for her phone—she will still need to bring it along in her purse.

The Verdict?

The Apple Watch has a lot of potential, but it doesn’t tick all of the boxes that it needs to. Keep in mind that it is a first-generation product. It will be exciting to see what comes next. For now, there are alternatives that can do a better job at each task for a better price.

The Alternatives

For telling the time, it’s hard to do better than a traditional timepiece. But if Grandma has decided on a smart wearable, you have other alternatives that beat the prices and features of the Apple Watch.

  • For alternative smartwatches, take a look at the Samsung Gear and the Pebble. The Pebble in particular might be a good fit. It’s a standalone piece with a longer battery life and simpler controls.
  • If Grandma likes the fitness aspects of the watch, she should try out a fitness tracker like Fitbit or a posture reminder like Lumo Lift.
  • For the ability to call for help in an emergency, nothing beats a medical alert system. Those that work around the home are entirely waterproof, so Grandma can wear them in the shower and bath where she needs them most.

In conclusion, talk with Grandma about why she’s interested in the Apple Watch, and take her to the Apple store so she can see it for herself. If she’s technologically savvy, she might have a great time with it. But this technology is new, and is bound to get even better in the next version. For now, there are other products on the market that will better fit her needs.

Shayne Fitz-Coy is the Co-CEO and President of Alert-1, an aging-in-place technology company headquartered in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with offices nationwide. A Certified Aging in Place Specialist, Shayne has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Harvard College and a master’s in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Shayne hails from Maryland, and now calls the Bay Area home.

5 Tech Trends in Senior Living

Having all the comforts of home isn’t a new trend in a senior living community, as efforts in recent years have shifted the focus to making senior living settings as homelike as possible. That said, today’s senior generation is accustomed to having easy access to technology such as Wi-Fi, smartphones and tablets, HD televisions with on-demand video, and other technology that many people have in their homes. As such, senior living providers must keep up with the pace of technology to meet the demands of modern seniors who join their communities. Here’s a look at a few current tech trends in senior living communities.

1. Electronic health records are the norm.

Gone are the days of paper progress notes and tattered manila folders holding a resident’s complete medical history. Electronic health records are making staff more efficient and allowing for better coordination of care among providers. As electronic health records become standard industry-wide, antiquated practices, such as faxing patient records to a physician or other healthcare provider, are slowly going by the wayside. But along with the increased use of digital record keeping comes the risk of a data breach.

2. Data breach insurance has become a necessary thing in the senior living industry.

Senior living providers, which handle sensitive resident information and generate protected health data, must comply with HIPAA regulations and maintain strict confidentiality and data protection measures. With more senior living providers maintaining electronic health records, the volume of data obtainable by hackers increases substantially every day. The cost of a data breach is simply too high to risk, and as data breaches become increasingly commonplace, senior living providers are looking to data breach insurance in order to minimize some of the risks in the event of a data breach.

3. Remote monitoring benefits providers and residents alike.

Historically, memory care units have maintained locked units and strictly monitored premises to protect residents who may be prone to wandering. Remote monitoring technology takes the safety of wander-prone residents to a new level, offering alert mechanisms that notify staff the moment a resident has wandered into unsafe territory and provide precise location tracking so that residents may be quickly brought back to safety. The same technology is being used to help seniors maintain their independence in their own homes longer.

4. Wi-Fi everywhere is a must.

Senior living campuses are increasingly providing campus-wide Wi-Fi for both residents and staff. Senior living staffers with ready access to Wi-Fi can communicate rapidly with other staff, order prescriptions and perform a variety of tasks that would otherwise rely on time-consuming phone calls and faxes. For residents, the need for Wi-Fi has never been more clear. Today’s seniors are more tech savvy than ever before, and they demand the ability to continue using their smartphones, laptops, email and social networking services following a move to a senior living community. Anything less is unfathomable to modern seniors.

5. Tech-supported caregiving.

Provider Magazine highlights some of the many tech innovations that are improving the lives of senior living residents everywhere. From sensors that detect soiled incontinence products to predictive analytics models that help healthcare providers predict which residents are likely to develop illnesses or complications, such as pulmonary problems, there are a slew of new technologies that promise to make caring for aging adults simpler and more effective. Some of these innovations are in development, while others are in Beta or being tested or utilized in senior living communities already. In the coming years, we expect to see more widespread, industry-wide adoption of these tech innovations.

It’s an exciting time to work in the senior living field, and seniors who will be making a move to a senior living community in the coming years stand to benefit from new and improved methods of care delivery, more comprehensive services, access to the latest technology tools and gadgets, and so much more.

How Medical Alert Systems Helped Pioneer the Internet of Things

Wearable, connected devices are the must-have items of 2015. Plus, the soon-to-debut Apple Watch may add even more buzz to the sector. These emerging wearables have social media capability and built-in fitness tracking and health monitoring capabilities.

But Samsung, Apple and the other tech giants are actually late to the party. Seniors have trusted wearable medical alert systems for years, and new medical alert systems have more features than ever.

Let’s look at how medical alerts have changed over the years and see what’s next.

What is a Medical Alert Bracelet?

The medical alert bracelet is a personal emergency response system for seniors and caregivers. You can press a button on your neck or wrist to call for help. The button is always on your person (wearable) so help is just a touch away.

The Medical Alert Bracelet of the Past

The first medical alert bracelet had only one simple function. In 1975, Popular Science magazine featured it as an “emergency dialer”—a machine attached to the (rotary) phone. To call for help, the senior pressed a button on a medallion worn around the neck. When depressed, the button relayed a signal to the machine. Then the machine sent out a single prerecorded message to a predetermined number.

The major drawback to this early system was the single emergency contact number. You had to hope that person was home! The contact knew that there was an emergency. But, they received no details about what was happening. While revolutionary, seniors and caregivers demanded more features and customization.

Today’s Senior Wearables: Fall Detection and Mobile Medical Alerts

Today’s medical alerts are smaller, lighter and more feature-rich than the days of yore. These medical alert systems come pre-programmed for minimal installation and effort on your part. When seniors press their help buttons, they connect with trained emergency operators. The operator dials through a personalized list of your emergency contacts. Your contacts know exactly what’s going on, and help is immediately on the way—no more guessing and no more prerecorded messages.

Also, seniors are no longer tied to their home landline telephone. New mobile medical alerts use GPS to pinpoint location. In-home wireless networks make life-saving monitoring services both accessible and affordable to all. The technology acknowledges the restrictions of everyday homeowners and breaks down those barriers. In the process, this allows for more comprehensive care.

Another key breakthrough, advanced fall detection technology, keeps seniors safer. These medical alerts use sensitive accelerometers to detect slips and falls. When a senior slips, they can get help without pressing the help button at all. Previous help buttons were not nearly as smart. Now the processes are automated to immediately send out a distress call. We all know there are times in your life that prevent you from being autonomous or self-reliant. Today’s technology can rise to the challenge and intervene on your behalf.

The Future of Medical Alert Bracelets: The Internet of Things

Alert bracelet technology has made leaps and bounds, but the basic idea of emergency alarms remains unchanged. So what’s next for the alert bracelet in the Internet of Things era?

The Internet of Things describes how smart devices can communicate both with you and each other. Your refrigerator, washer and drier, your front door… you can communicate with them all via computer or smart phone.

The next medical alert systems won’t require a bracelet or pendant at all—they will be built into our clothes and home fixtures. Your shirt will keep an eye on your heartbeat and call caregivers if you fall. Your slippers will make a distress call when they do not get walked out to check the mail.

Your home, clothes and other technology will work together to keep you safe and healthy. In the era of the Internet of Things, everything is keeping watch, making sure seniors remain safe.

Shayne Fitz-Coy is the Co-CEO and President of Alert-1, an aging-in-place technology company headquartered in Williamsport, Pennsylvania with offices nationwide. A Certified Aging in Place Specialist, Shayne has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Harvard College and a master’s in Business Administration from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Shayne hails from Maryland, and now calls the Bay Area home.

7 Apps That Meet Caregivers’ Needs

Silicon Valley is beginning to realize that there is an ever-increasing need for technology—mobile, online, and in-home—to support caregivers. A report from the National Alliance for Caregiving, the “Alliance,” comes on the heels of an April 2014 roundtable that featured government experts, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, caregiving advocates and researchers.

The report, “Catalyzing Technology to Support Family Caregiving,” summarizes the recommendations developed by the roundtable, in the hopes of motivating the industry to develop useful technology tools and apps for caregivers.

Today’s caregivers are connected

In the foreword of the report, President and CEO of the Alliance, Gail Gibson Hunt, explains that “today, most family caregivers are connected to technologies, whether through the Internet, mobile apps, or telemonitoring devices that can help friends and support the care of a loved one.”

She also explains that there are tons of digital solutions out there, but “these solutions must be tailored to the needs and abilities of the family caregiver. Recent research shows that nearly 40 percent of people in the U.S. are caring for an adult or child with disabilities, a number that is increasing as Baby Boomers age. Caregivers increasingly rely on technology to help with medication management and reconciliation, to get information on a treatment or diagnosis, to find support, and to search for services.”

The purpose of the report is to urge those working in Silicon Valley to address the needs of caregivers and meet them where they are, by providing a better understanding of those caregivers’ needs.

Digging deeper into caregivers’ needs

To get a clear picture of those caregivers’ needs, we look to 2010, when the Alliance published a study with United Health Group. “The e-Connected Family Caregiver: Bringing Caregiving into the 21st Century,” surveyed family caregivers about the likelihood of using 12 different technologies to help them care for their loved ones. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed were most interested in one of four systems: Personal Health Record Tracking, Caregiving Coordination System, Medication Support System, and Symptom Monitor and Transmitter.

It seems as though Silicon Valley has been paying attention to what these experts and caregivers want, as countless apps for caregivers currently are available for various types of devices. Our goal is to highlight some of the most useful, reliable and user-friendly apps  out there for caregivers. Our recommendations are below, in no particular order.

1. Healthspek

A free, cloud-based iPad app, Healthspek gives individuals and caregivers the ability to track, collect and share personal and family health records. Healthspek also is helpful for recording physician, insurance and emergency contacts. Caregivers especially love the way in which the app helps them manage medications, medical charts and images, and track vitals. To make communication between caregivers and medical providers easier, Healthspek receives medical records and facilitates electronic communications with providers, and, with patient’s permission, doctors can access records through Healthspek’s ChartNow feature.

2. Unfrazzle

Sometimes, coordinating care between caregivers is the most challenging task of all. Unfrazzle is a free app for iPhones, iPads and Android devices that seeks to make the lives of caregivers a little easier by helping them coordinate tasks for themselves or with other family caregivers. The app allows caregivers to keep track of day-to-day caregiving tasks, share some or all of the tasks, and choose which tasks to track or assign. With flexible reminders for scheduling one-time or ongoing events, caregivers don’t have to worry about forgetting something. Plus, privacy controls allow users to decide who sees which information. Caregivers also have peace of mind when using Unfrazzle, because they are able to check in to make sure assigned tasks are completed.

3. Balance: for Alzheimer’s Caregivers

Alzheimer’s is a very specific disease, and Balance: for Alzheimer’s Caregivers is an iPhone and iPad app designed specifically for caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients. Because to the nature of Alzheimer’s, it is especially important for caregivers to track behavioral and emotional changes and share them with other caregivers and doctors, and the app makes those tasks so much simpler for caregivers. At a reasonable $0.99, Balance is a popular app among caregivers because it also provides news, information, and research relating to Alzheimer’s. Users also take advantage of Balance’s medication management features, including refill date, start date, dosage, and more. Plus, Balance makes doctor’s visits more manageable because the caregivers can log symptoms and take notes.

4. Caregiver’s Touch

One of the best apps for collaborating with other family members and caregivers, Caregiver’s Touch has been referred to as “The Cadillac of Apps” by Caregivers blogger Ann Napoletan. Create as many as six profiles that each stores information on tabs for easy access. To get the full web version, a $19.95/month or $199.95/year subscription is required, but the $4.99 iPhone app is available to sync with the subscription service; one may be used without the other. Caregiver’s Touch includes a simple tool for organizing and storing information and then sharing it with family members in several categories: calendar, contacts, emergency, insurance, legal and financial, medical history, medication and notes. The app also helps caregivers share information with family members securely.

5. PocketPharmacist

Billed as “the easiest to use (and understand) drug information app and medication organizer,” Pocket Pharmacist has earned outstanding reviews from medical professionals and users. Caregivers can rest easy knowing the app will alert them to potentially dangerous drug interactions. The $1.99 iPhone and iPad app allows caregivers to organize family members’ medications with medication reminders, automatic interaction alerts, and profile printouts, plus create multiple medication lists with the Med Box med organizer.

6. CareCoach

With caregivers and their loved ones making so many trips to the doctor, it can very difficult to keep track of and remember what physicians say at eachappointments. And, if there are several caregivers for one individual, keeping track of the topics discussed in the exam room can be nearly impossible. CareCoach, a free app available for both Android devices and the iPhone, solves the problem. With CareCoach, caregivers have the ability to review questions and notes to ask the physician and then record a doctor’s visit with your smart phone. After the visit, users can securely upload to their online CareCoach account and then choose who can listen to the recording, for a convenient way to share information about the family member’s care.

7. Lotsa Helping Hands

Lotsa Helping Hands realizes that caregiving takes a community effort. So, the app helps users to ask for help, and it makes it easy for members of the community to know what to do, and when to do it. Sometimes, caregivers need to lean on one another and community members for support as they face the challenges of caring for a loved one: Lotsa Helping Hands has a solution for that, too. The free app includes a host of helpful features for caregivers, including a Help Calendar, Community Building Features, Custom Sections, Photo Gallery, Message Boards, Well Wishes, and more.

Do you use any apps to help you in your daily caregiving duties? We’d love to hear about which apps you have tried, and which have worked the best for your situation. Leave a comment to get the conversation moving.

Image via Flickr by ebayink

Must-Have Apps for the Professional Senior Woman

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is written by Arar Han, co-CEO (along with Shayne Fitz-Coy) at Alert-1.

Whether you’ve owned your own business or have been a loyal employee for years, it’s natural for women to want to step back and enjoy their golden years, even if they’re not quite ready to entirely put their career out to pasture. For many, that means putting in limited hours from home.

Being an independent manager of your home and life can be quite a chore, especially if you are accustomed to working on a team. Fortunately, our smartphones have evolved into capable assistants—if you know which apps are worth your time.

Here are my must-have Apple and Android apps for keeping my personal and professional lives in working order:

Managing your finances: Mint (iOS & Android)Woman with Smartphone

Maintaining a budget is time-consuming and tedious without the right infrastructure. If you’re no longer working with a bookkeeper, Mint is an app that makes taking over your own financial record keeping easy. It automatically tracks your spending and organizes it into categories. The colorful charts help you understand where your money is going. Mint helps you keep your budget on track with email and mobile alerts, free advice and bill reminders. With a reduced income as you begin to live off of retirement savings, tracking your expenditures is more important than ever before.

Exercising: The Official Johnson & Johnson 7 Minute Workout (iOS & Android)

The older we get, the harder it is to motivate ourselves to exercise, it seems. Do you have trouble making time for physical activity? That won’t be a problem with this streamlined app from Johnson & Johnson, giving you custom workouts that, despite its name, can be anywhere from seven to 21 minutes.  Music pumps to motivate you, and your personal trainer shows you how to do the movements correctly. The app gauges your fitness and motivation levels for a personalized experience, and it makes it easy to see your progress. Best of all, you don’t even have to leave the house.

Decorating: Snapshop (iOS)

Have you been putting off the revamp of your home’s décor that you’ve wanted?

Now that you’re spending a lot of time at home, you want your space to inspire you. This app lets you visualize how that couch you’re eyeing will actually look in your home before you buy it! Once you’ve found a piece you love, just hold up your phone and drop it into your room. You can rotate them, position them and even change their color. Warning: This app can be hugely addictive.

Cooking: Yummly (iOS)

Ensure that your grandkids can’t wait to visit by always having delicious treats on hand when they arrive. Yummly is the best way to find the perfect recipe.  You can search Yummly by ingredient and taste preferences and it will give you personalized recommendations. It can even recommend recipes based on their preparation time, difficulty, nutritional value and suitability for diets and allergies.

Don’t want to find a recipe only to not have all of the ingredients? Just tell Yummly what you have in your pantry and fridge, and it will give you recipes that use the ingredients you already have. It’s perfect for the days when you want a healthy home-cooked meal but can’t get out the door to go shopping. Plus, when you are able to make a shopping trip, Yummly will keep track of what you need.

Chores: Home Routines (iOS)

Even if you’ve already led a second career as a mother and homemaker, that doesn’t make keeping up with cleaning any easier. Home Routines is the best way to keep track of chores and tasks that need regular attending to. The app organizes your tasks into day of the week, time and area of your house, and can remind you when it’s time to get down to business. When you finish a task you get a star, and the app keeps track of your accomplishments so you can look back and celebrate how much you got done that day. A built-in timer helps you manage your time, and “Focus Zones” break your home into manageable chunks so you can focus on a specific area.

Games & brain training: Luminosity (iOS & Android)

Exercising an aging mind can be just as essential as physical workouts. Want to read better, react quicker, and remember people’s names—all while having fun? Luminosity combines brain training with fun games that are anything but mindless. If you love quick, yet challenging puzzles, Luminosity is for you. Keep your mind sharp and fresh for the long haul!

To-do lists and note-taking: Awesome Note (iOS & Android)

Are you always losing your handwritten to-do lists, or creating multiple lists that never get completed? Awesome Note is the perfect way to keep track of your tasks and your thoughts. Write tasks on your to-do list and either give them due dates or set them to repeat automatically. You can organize your tasks any way you could want, including by date modified, date created, due date and priority. You can view them as a list for the day or on a calendar to plan ahead.


Now that you’re spending more time than ever at home, these apps can help you simplify and streamline your life. They are both a pleasure to use and leave you more time to enjoy the things you love. Why not have a personal assistant, trainer, designer, accountant and chef all in the palm of your hand?

Arar Han is co-CEO of Alert-1, a personal safety technology and consulting firm headquartered in Williamsport, Penn., with offices nationwide. A Certified Aging in Place Specialist, Arar holds a dual degree in Philosophy and Human Development from Boston College, summa cum laude, and an MBA from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Originally from Seoul, she currently lives in Palo Alto, Calif., with her family.


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