We live in amazing times! Seniors nowadays have access to smart technologies and devices that their parents and grandparents could only dream of. As a young woman, my mother worked for the phone company, teaching people how to use the newfangled dial phones. She actually started her working career as a telephone operator back in the day when you didn’t dial a number, but spoke to an operator who plugged you into to the line, instead. Now we have tiny smart phones a la Star Trek, with more computer capacity than the monstrosities that put Neil Armstrong on the moon back in 1967.
Today’s technology for aging parents includes:
- Digital technology to enable aging in place
- Smart homes for aging in place
- Gadgets and safety technology for elderly living alone
- Trending future technology for the elderly
As more and more seniors choose to age in place, technology will become increasingly necessary. The good news is that much of the technology that can help our elderly live more safely isn’t too high tech and should be easy enough to master, given some time.
Digital Technology To Enable Aging In Place
For those who are aging in place, technology can allow them to stay in their homes longer and more safely.
For example, today’s security programs, like SimpliSafe, can be set up by most anyone. I love that a caregiver (such as the children of senior parents) can monitor their parents via the app. In addition, SimpliSafe will also “hear” a smoke or carbon monoxide alarm and be alerted – sending help which is extremely useful if the senior living in the home is hard of hearing.
Remote monitors used to be strictly used as baby monitors, but now there are similar devices for monitoring seniors. Called grandparent monitors, these passive monitoring systems can track the movements and activities of an elderly loved one 24 hours a day, seven days a week. One example of a grandparent monitoring system is the Blurams Home Pro Security Camera, which has WiFi capability with facial recognition and advanced night vision.
Smart Home Assistants like Amazon’s Alexa can help protect seniors by:
- Calling 911
- Alerting family and friends
- Making video phone calls
- Reading can labels via the Show And Tell skill (for visually impaired adults)
- Automating lights
- Giving reminders and notifications
- Starting the car (great for those winter mornings) or calling Uber or Lyft
- Acting as a burglar deterrent
- Providing answers to simple medical questions
GPS location trackers are now on smart watches and stand alone devices, which is a good option for seniors who have dementia or Alzheimer’s and may wander away from home. They can show you where the person is and some can set up an electronic “fence” that will send an alert if the person goes out of a designated area. One caveat is that many of these require a monthly or yearly subscription.
Did you know that elders can even have digital pets? Seniors don’t need to take care of them – no feeding or walking required, yet these robots are lifelike enough to help lonely seniors feel connected. First marketed for those with dementia, the Ageless Innovation companion cat from Joy for All has sensors throughout that allow it to react when someone hugs or pets it. It can do things like move its body and head, open and close its mouth and eyes, and raise a paw, plus it has VibraPurr technology to mimic the most realistic purring you’ll hear. You can even brush the fur of this robotic cat, as it looks and feels amazingly lifelike. there is also an Ageless Innovation companion dog (golden retriever puppy).
Smart Homes For Aging In Place
Homes are evolving through technology, allowing seniors easier methods of aging in place.. Today’s smart homes contain devices that are voice-controlled or capable of operating on their own, such as:
- Roomba vacuum cleaners
- Light bulbs in lamps
- Light switches
- Door locks and doorbell cameras
- Garage doors
- Automated window blinds
- Home security systems
- Even toilet seats are high tech now – the Neptune Toilet Lift lowers and raises the user onto the toilet – very much like a lift chair.
There are even Granny Pods for seniors who want to remain independent by living on their own – in their child’s backyard. These are like “mother in law suites”, but they can be set up with a virtual monitoring system that keeps track of your relative’s health. Some systems can be configured to send the information to your family’s doctor, as well.
These systems can keep track of such things as:
- Blood pressure
- Glucose levels
- Heart rate
- Blood gases
Gadgets And Safety Technology For Elderly Living Alone
Gadgets and safety technology have increased safety for the elderly who live alone. These include:
- Life Alert and other similar systems
- The Life Alert shower HELP button
- GPS enabled watches from Apple (this particular one also has an anti fall alarm which is pretty cool!)
- Invisawear Smart Jewelry – these days, GPS and alert wearables don’t have to look clunky – this beautiful necklace is a piece of jewelry that is also a safety device.
- E-Pill Pocket Pillboxes and MedMinder that will hold medications and also remind the person when it is time to take them.
- Reachers or grabbers to help seniors pick up items from the floor or from high places.
- Gas/carbon monoxide alarms, such as the Nighthawk Plug-in Carbon Monoxide and Explosive Gas Alarm. It plugs into any standard outlet and detects natural gas, propane gas, and carbon monoxide.
Trending Future Technology For The Elderly
Telemedicine (also known as digital medicine) is trending right now. Medicare.gov reports that, “Telehealth services include office visits, psychotherapy, consultations, and certain other medical or health services that are provided by an eligible provider who isn’t at your location using an interactive 2-way telecommunications system (like real-time audio and video).” At the time of writing, Medicare only provides telemedicine in rural areas, however the Medicare website notes that, “ ” Seniors should check their individual health plans to see if they can get this benefit.
Recently, Time Magazine recently reported that robots with artificial intelligence are starting to show up in assisted living facilities. They free up staff while providing social interaction, reminding seniors to take their medications, singing songs, and playing games with residents.
Virtual reality headsets like the ones from Rendever, are helping seniors do such things as record their life stories, view family pictures and videos, provide cognitive stimulation through reminiscence therapy, games and continued learning. They can even help the elder explore different countries via video or have bucket list experiences, such as flying in a hot air balloon, through the headset.
Cyberdyne, a Japanese company, is working on the HAL® [Hybrid Assistive Limb®] For Medical Use – Lower Limb Model. HAL® is a “medical device for people who have disorders in the lower limb and people whose legs are weakening.” Basically, it’s a robotic exoskeleton (think of the Iron Man movies) that interprets skin surface bio-electric signals and “accordingly compensates muscle power of lower limbs and assists him or her in walking, standing-up and sitting-down with his or her own legs.” In the future, it is possible that seniors who have Parkinson’s, have suffered a stroke, or have other disorders of their cerebral or muscle system will be able to walk with a robotic device like HAL®.
How Can We Encourage Seniors To Use Technology?
A detriment to the older members of the Baby Boomer generation is the fact that technology has changed so rapidly that they often can’t keep up (or don’t see the need to). Many of these elders were in the work force long before computers became the norm and they didn’t have to learn much about them. Now that technology can help them age in place, seniors are often reluctant to learn (“It’s too complicated, I’ll never remember how to do it.”) or they are scared they will somehow “break” the device.
My dad loved the idea of technology – at age 85, he got his first desktop computer, and at age 94 he got an iPad. He relentlessly talked about getting a smart phone until I pointed out that he barely used the iPad for anything and a smart phone was basically the same thing on a smaller scale, except it could make phone calls. The bottom line was that Dad didn’t use either device much because he couldn’t understand the intuitiveness of how they worked – because he didn’t have a manual. Dad was the type of guy who read the owner’s manual from cover to cover whenever he got a new appliance or a new car!
While he loved having the technology, his other problem was not seeing the value of using these devices. “Well, I can look up the address in the phone book,” he’d say. Or, “I’ve been reading a map for directions for 70 years.” Or, “I can plan a vacation with a travel agent.” Or, “Why do I need a programmable thermostat? I can change the temperature whenever I want.” You get the idea.
So, how can we encourage seniors to use technology? It helps if we:
- Explain the value in the technology
- Introduce technology slowly
- Get a manual or book to help the senior understand the technology
- Teach the senior how to be safe online
Explain The Value In The Technology
Seniors may say they aren’t interested in computers or have no need for one…until they are shown the benefits of the technology, so the key is to figure out what they need then you can “sell” them the technology.
I’m writing this post in the middle of winter, so I can tell you that many seniors would probably love to come into a dark home and say, “Alexa, turn on the lights” and have them magically illuminate the room via a smart plug.
How about having a digital reminder to take medications? Or a vacuum that will clean the floors for you? It’s pretty cool to be able to have a phone talk you through turn-by-turn directions to a favorite restaurant or see the grandkid’s faces on Alexa Show or Skype.
The idea is to find the device that the senior will most enjoy using and start the introduction to technology with that.
Introduce Technology Slowly
It isn’t going to help the senior if they get inundated with instructions and words that make no sense to them. Be patient with explanations and expect that you’ll have to show them how to do something more than once (more like many times, probably). Learning technology is like learning a second language for people who didn’t grow up with it.
- Start with easy things and work to the harder ones. Games are usually an easy starting point and will give the senior confidence in their computer skills as they learn how to work within the games.
- Use simple words to teach. Someone with a minimal comprehension of today’s technology is never going to understand what you are trying to say if you use technical terms.
- Write down specific how-to instructions and go step by step. If they need to click “enter” twice in a row, write it down twice (ie: “Press enter (green button). Press enter again.”)
- Be patient – even if you think the task is simple, it likely won’t be for them at first.
- Keep each teaching session short so the senior doesn’t get information overload.
Get A Manual Or Book To Help The Senior Understand The Technology
In my dad’s case, my sister got him an iPad instruction manual to help him understand his new iPad. It helped him to have reference pictures so he could understand how to move through the tablet’s screens.
You could also do something similar with an iPhone manual or Android phone manual. You can also buy instruction books for things like the senior’s specific brand of desktop computer or their Google Home or Alexa device. In fact, there is even a My Smart Home For Seniors book to help understand how to use smart light bulbs and smart plugs, smart thermostats and appliances, and other smart home devices.
Teach The Senior How To Be Safe Online
Because seniors often aren’t as technologically savvy as younger people, they can be easily taken advantage of in cyber space. It’s fairly common to read about sweetheart swindlers or grandparent scams (you can read all about online scams in our article about online safety), so elders need to be cautious when online.
- Have periodic discussions with your senior loved one about what can happen online. Talk about the newest scams, ask questions about what the senior is doing online. Who are they talking to? Is someone asking them for money?
- Make sure you or your senior aren’t using easily guessable passwords or ones with easy-to-find information for online accounts. Never use passwords with number or letter sequences, such as 112233 or “fghijk”. Also, never use things that compromise your online security, such as your name (or your spouse’s, child’s or pet’s names), birthdays, anniversaries, your home address or phone number. or phrases like “password” or “iloveyou.” Read our article, What Is A Good Way For Seniors To Remember Passwords, for more information about choosing online passwords.
- Recognize that ads are now being placed at the top of search results lists and clicking on them can take you to a fraudulent website. Always look for the teeny tiny print that says “Ad” before clicking on a website link. Also, it can be helpful to look for the words “official website” or something similar so you know you aren’t clicking on a scammer’s website (for example: a search for the term “ATT” brings up the result of “AT&T Official Site”).
- Be wary of how an online retailer asks for payment. Scammers will want wire transfers, preloaded money card info, or a money order. They will not ask for a credit or debit card like most retailers.
- Watch out for phishing scams, which involve the use of instant messaging and email spoofing. Phishers will disguise themselves as IT administrators, online payment processors, banks, auction sites, social media platforms, and any other source a victim could believe. They also are adept at creating fake websites that look exactly like the real thing. These scams can be spotted by the email salutation, which will say, “Dear Customer” or “Dear Sir or Madam”, instead of, “Dear (your name)” and the email usually has misspelled words in it. Also, the biggest tip off is that they will want the senior to do something NOW – example: wire money within 24 hours, call today to stop their account from being closed permanently, etc. Seniors should NEVER click on any link within these emails or messages because the links can install viruses or can possibly provide access to personal information that the scammer can use.