As more and more older adults begin aging in place in their own homes, they are relying on smart home devices to help them maintain their independence as long as possible. And the advent of so much new technology in the last decade is beginning to make that very possible.
What technology is available to help seniors live independently? – The list includes smartphones, tablets, GPS enabled devices, wearable devices, in home sensors, video monitoring systems, voice activated devices, emergency response products, smoke detectors, gas detectors, house alarms and medication dispensers just to name the main ones.
Technology these days doesn’t always mean an electronic device. There are many tools and gadgets available that don’t require high tech skills that can be used to help seniors live independently whether they live alone or not.
These amazing gadgets can be lifesavers not only for the older people but for their family members as well.
Gadgets For Seniors Who Want To Remain Independent
The list of gadgets I’m going to explore in this article will keep growing so bookmark this article or sign up to get updates because there seems to be an endless variety of gadgets that I could list here and it’s ever expanding!
While human caregiving cannot and will not be replaced, assistive technologies that can supplement human caregiving have the potential to improve the quality of life for both older adults and their caregivers.The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (link downloads a PDF)
Assistive technology is so much more than just cell phones and mobile devices that seniors can use to help make their lives easier and safer.
1) Stove Alarms – The most budget-friendly stove alarm model for a gas stove that you can just plug in and walk away from is 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.
2) High Tech Stove Alarm – I’m impressed with iGuardStove. It has built in motion sensors and will shut off the gas after no motion has been detected for 5 minutes. For your peace of mind, it will send an alert to your smartphone. It also has a secret lock that allows a caregiver to lock the stove. The upgraded version also offers gas leak detection. NOTE: you’ll need a certified plumber to install
3) Stovetop Fire Suppressor – A simple device for fire suppression on an electric stove is the StoveTop FireStop. It’s basically designed to put out grease fires and automatically deploys when it comes in contact with flames. Mounted by magnets to the underside of the range hood, StoveTop FireStop gives you invisible peace-of-mind.
(Note: There’s no one speaking on this video – you only hear the sound of the StoveTop FireStop working)
4) Seat Belt Buckle Holders – Something as simple as buckling your seat belt in the car can become difficult for an older adult, especially if they suffer from arthritis in their hands. A gadget like the Wididi Buckle Up is a great tool to fix that!
5) Gas Cap Remover – For anyone who suffers from arthritis in their hands – they know how difficult it can be to turn a gas cap to fill up your car. Well – this little Freedom Gas Cap Wrench is a great stocking stuffer that will be appreciated and used often!
6) Flexible Shower Head – A shower head that has a grip on it (easier for your senior loved one to handle) like this one from Yoo.Mee (I know – it’s a funny name). These inexpensive home modifications may work for your elderly person.
7) Grab Bars – It used to be that grab bars were designated for bathrooms only. But today’s homes built for senior living – grab bars can be installed throughout the house. Hallways, living rooms, garages, anywhere there is just one or two steps to enter / exit a room. Read About The Different Types Of Grab Bars Available
8) Toilet Seats – There are several different ways that you can make it easier to get up and down from a toilet seat (which are usually too low for many older adults). You can purchase a brand new toilet that is taller (yes, they make these) or you can add a device to the existing toilet to make the seat higher.
We recommend several devices on our page about toilet seats – click here. But if you really want to go high tech – you can look into the Neptune Toilet Lift which lowers and raises the user onto the toilet – very much like a lift chair.
There’s more coming in the near feature in what is being dubbed as “intelligent bathroom sensors”. You can see the video presentation of these new products as it’s presented by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by clicking here.
9) Lights – In my experience, there can never be enough lights in homes of elderly people. Most of my patients would keep their homes dark because the light hurt their eyes and/or they wanted to save money on electricity. Neither reason is a good one when the consequences could possibly be a fall that could result in severe injury or death.
You can use plug in lights or battery powered lights. I like to use a combination of both because there can never be too many lights! Place them everywhere, but especially in those areas that are used at night time. For example, the path from the bed to the bathroom, the pathway to and from the kitchen, etc.
10) Barrier Free – Many homes, especially older homes have barriers that only become evident when someone gets older. These little barriers can make the difference between independent living and requiring help.
Things like showers that you have to step into (or showers in bathtubs), doorway thresholds (which can be difficult if using a walker or wheelchair), steps to enter a room (remember those sunken living rooms?). These can all make it more difficult than necessary to ambulate throughout the home.
For showers it’s recommended to remove the tiles to step over but of course this requires some home construction. You can instead use transfer benches and shower chairs (depending on the structure of your shower).
Ramps for outdoor steps and Threshold Ramps like this one which are great for indoor use. My mom-in-law was recovering from pneumonia last year and she was using a wheelchair to get from the bed to the bathroom one night when she literally got “stuck” at the threshold of her bathroom door. You can avoid incidences like this with simple and inexpensive threshold ramps.
11) Voice Activated Assistive Devices Like Alexa and Google Home – These are more “tech” and less “gadget” but they are an amazing tool that can help some seniors live unsupervised whether they live alone or not.
They both have a variety of devices that you can use throughout the home (and I do recommend to have several throughout the home) but I will say that you can do much more with Amazon’s Alexa than with Google Home.
With voice commands, the user can access a plethora of actions that Alexa can do. Alexa calls them “skills” and their list seems endless:
- Video chat / Video call
- Call friends and relatives (a new way to make phone calls)
- Calendar notifications
- Use as a virtual assistant
- Use as an intercom system
- Control lights, television and other devices with smart plugs
- Burglar Deterrent
- Use as a smart speaker
- Call Uber / Lyft
- Call 911, pre-set Buddies to contact emergency services
- And much, much more!
You can read about my top 20 Amazon Skills for seniors – just click here.
They are coordinated with a smartphone app so you can control them from wherever you are.
For more about Google Home services – check out my article on Best Google Home Services For Seniors.
These smart assistive devices can also help seniors to fight social isolation and loneliness because they can help them to connect with others visually (using the Amazon Echo Show).
12) Wearables – I can’t possibly write an article on tech for seniors without mentioning the amazing wearables that are available these days.
This list of products includes:
- Life Alert (almost everyone has heard of this!)
- GPS enabled watch 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! But you do need to keep your cell phone nearby to use it.
One additional item to add to the Invisawear jewelry that I can recommend for older adults is a magnetic clasp to the Invisawear necklace. This makes it much easier to put on and take off for anyone who has problems managing small jewelry clasps. I know that I do so this makes it quick and easy for me to wear my Invisawear necklace.
These personal emergency response systems can be a lifesaver.
At some point in the near feature (I believe) these wearable devices will be used by healthcare providers for remote monitoring of medical conditions, heart rate and more. They are also a great way to gather and update health information.
Today, healthcare providers are excited about the potential of wearable devices to monitor vital signs like blood pressure as well as early warning signs of more serious conditions, like heart attacks or infections.University of Illinois Chicago
13) Smart Pill Dispensers And “Remember To Take Medication” App – It seems that for some people, the older they get, the more medications they take. When you have a lot of prescriptions, it can be difficult to remember what to take and when to take it. Well, as they say, “there’s an app for that”! We’ve listed a few technology-smart pill dispensers, services, and apps that we think are pretty cool:
PillPack this is actually an Amazon service that takes away the need for going to the pharmacy for prescription renewals or pickups. This service will sort your monthly prescriptions (including any over the counter vitamins, supplements, pain medications, etc) and put them into easy-open packets.
Each see-through packet is clearly labeled with the day of the week and time of day that you should take the medication. The PillPack service also handles creams, inhalers, and any testing supplies you may need.
PillPack’s service and shipping is free – all you pay for is your regular insurance copays like you would in a physical pharmacy. You will need to pay out of pocket costs for any non-prescription medications or supplements that you include in the monthly service, but you would also have to do that in a physical pharmacy. Also, if you need something as soon as possible, PillPack offers 1 day service.
E-Pill Pocket Pillbox is a vibrating pill timer reminder and dispenser. It is an inexpensive, modern update on the traditional pill case. You might have seen it when it was featured on Doctor’s TV.
The E-Pill Pocket Pillbox has four audible 30-second alarms to alert you when it is time to take a medication. It also gives you a vibration alert at the same time. There is a snooze feature that will repeat the alarms up to three times.
The E-Pill Pocket Pillbox can hold up to 32 aspirin-sized tablets and is small and light enough to fit into your shirt pocket or a purse. It retails for about $25 (check price online here).
One nice feature is that if you are a senior who has a hard time hearing an alarm, the E-Pill Pocket Pillbox also has a lockable dispenser with a voice alert that says, “Time to take your medications.”
MedMinder – this is a system for those who want a smart pill dispenser that will also remind you via mobile alerts if you forget to take your medicine. The pill dispenser has 28 compartments, making it a 7 day pillbox when holding 4 daily doses of medication.
When it is time to take a medication, the appropriate compartment flashes a light. If you don’t remove the container within a certain time, the MedMinder will alert you again with an audible alert plus your choice of digital reminders (text messages or emails) or a telephone call. It also features its own cellular connection so that it doesn’t need a phone line or the internet to work (but it does need electricity).
The MedMinder can be programmed remotely by someone else if you aren’t tech savvy. It can also be set up for remote monitoring and to alert a loved one if a dose is missed. If a caregiver is helping you, the program can generate monthly reports to help them keep track of medication activity.
They have an unlocked version, but you can also get a version with a safety lock feature so that children looking for candy don’t get into your medications by mistake. One drawback is that it is not portable because it must be plugged into an electrical outlet.
Also – the biggest thing to consider, in my opinion – is that the MedMinder system isn’t cheap. It requires a monthly subscription fee of around $45/month (for the non-locking dispenser) to about $65/month (for the locking dispenser) as of 2019.
Medisafe Meds and Pills Reminder App (for desktop, phone, and tablet applications): This app is a simple app that can help you manage multiple medications and several profiles. The app can also track your prescriptions and remind you when it is time to refill your prescriptions. It is free and available in both the App Store for Apple products and in Google Play for Android.
Did you know that you can get smart tops for your prescription bottles now? Timer Caps have a stopwatch and a digital display that shows you the last time the bottle was closed. You don’t have to program them or set any alarms – the stopwatch starts automatically.
This helps avoid taking a medication twice because of forgetting whether you took it before and serves a secondary purpose of letting you know if anyone else opened your medication.
I do acknowledge that for some older adults, the learning curve to use some of these new technology products can be overwhelming. Laurie Orlov lists barriers that may make adopting technology difficult for seniors. Her list includes…
- Awareness of these products
- Accessibility to these products
- Anxiety over using them / learning them
- Configuring them
- The startup experience
- Customizing these products
- User training (which can be ongoing)
- Price of these products
Products For Elderly Living Alone
For seniors living alone, the issues of loneliness and social isolation can lead to depression and severe anxiety.
Using technology products like Alexa and Google Home can help to alleviate that but also immersing oneself in local and/or online classes to learn how to use these products can be a great way to increase social interaction and combat these issues.
When it comes to older adults who are living alone, the list of products available for them can include the list above as well as the following:
1) Emergency Alert Systems – The number one important thing for seniors living alone are some kind of medical alert systems or product. Some that I can list are:
- Life Alert’s shower HELP button
- Amazon Alexa has several skills that can be used for emergency alerts
- Any of the wearables that I mentioned above are excellent to for emergencies
2) Roomba Smart Vacuum – I love my Roomba and I think for most seniors living alone it would be a great tool to have. The only problem is that to empty it you have to reach down to the ground and pick up the unit. The best way to work with that is to place the charging unit next to a chair or ottoman so that someone can sit and reach down to empty it. You will have to use your judgement on whether this would work for you.
3) Shark Smart Vacuum – If you love a robotic vacuum and you have pets, then the Shark Robot Vacuum may be a better option for you. It uses plastic blades instead of a brush so you won’t have to pull out all that pet hair from the brush.
You can read more about some other vacuum cleaners that we recommend here.
4) Reachers and Grabbers – These have been around for several decades and they do work very well but I would recommend to consider the person you are asking to use this. If their balance is not good while they are standing, if they are using a cane or a walker – the use of a reacher or grabber may compromise their balance. If they can use this from a sitting position – it would be much safer.
5) Anything to Prevent Falls – There are many things that should be done to fall proof a home. This is true for any elderly person, whether they are living with someone or alone but it’s especially important if they are living alone. Click here to read our article on How To Fall Proof A Home For Your Elderly Parents.
6) Making Showers Safer – The majority of falls for seniors occur in the bathroom – so let’s make it as safe as possible.
A safe shower for seniors includes – an organizer to decrease clutter, non-slip floors and mats, grab bars, a hand held shower head, a shower chair or bench and user friendly faucet levers. Walk in showers and portable showers are recommended.
For recommendations on products and more, read our articles on 10 Amazing Tips On Creating Safe Showers For Seniors and How To Make The Bathroom Safe For Your Elderly Parents.
6) Kitchen Gadgets – Many seniors find cooking difficult because of things like difficulties in opening cans or jars, trouble lifting heavy pans or pots, etc. So, supplying the kitchen with some inexpensive products to do these jobs is essential (and they would make some great holiday gifts too).
For a list of some of these products, check out our article on 11 Most Helpful Kitchen Products For Senior Citizens (Under $50).
7) Medication Management App – The MyMeds Medication Management App is a great way to help seniors remember to take their medications. The app is free and will work on a desktop computer, or on iPhones and Android phones, and also on tablets like the iPad. The MyMeds app does not call the senior, instead it sends digital-only reminders via email, text, or as push notifications to the person’s inbox, which means the user needs to be somewhat computer savvy.
The app can also be configure to connect with the senior’s health care providers and their family or friends if they have questions about their medications or would like extra help monitoring whether they have taken medications.
All these items and so much more (I’ll keep adding them as I find them) can help to make the life of the older adult (and their caregiver) easier and safer and most of all, give them the independence we all crave.
We are extremely fortunate to be living in these days when technology is so easily available to many of us. Not only with all these high tech products make our lives easier and safer – they will work to help the problem of the shortage of workers as caregivers for seniors.
Gina Baik, an expert on tech solutions for seniors said “We have a shortage of workers…What’s going to fill the gap? Technology has to. We don’t have enough people.”cantonrep.com
These products can help seniors living alone, family members and they can also assist in-home care providers as well.
So take advantage of these technological advances – don’t be afraid to try them and most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help to learn how to use each and every one of them that can help you to live an easier and safer life!