Today, there are gadgets and apps for just about everything under the sun. Do you need to organize your shoes? No problem. There is an app for $5.99 that allows you to catalog all your shoes and even list how they “go” with different outfits! No kidding!
So, what do we know about technology for seniors? There are just as many varieties of gadgets and apps out there for the elderly. And we have learned there is a wide variety of comfort with technology and desire to use them. Some seniors embrace it fully and can be seen “tweeting and texting” all day, while another person the same age never seems able to find that never-charged cell phone kept in the car “somewhere” for “emergencies.”
We also know different needs and abilities lend themselves to different levels of technology. What may work beautifully for medication management in one situation is a simple dollar-store plastic pill organizer. Another person may need more sophisticated electronic pill dispensers and yet another, may need an automated call to remind them to take their medications.
There are apps for caregivers too. So, even if an elderly person does not want to use technology, their family members may be using tools to help with caring. The most common problems facing elderly people at home and their caregivers are: falls, food, medication management, loneliness, and a need for checking in.
Are Seniors Embracing Technology?
While some seniors shy away from new technology, many are embracing it and the numbers are growing. Over 77% are using cell phones (usually the basic kind – not smart phones) and about 59% are using the Internet. While phones and the web seem like the only technologies around, there are still other types of gadgets and gizmos that seniors can use to help them with aging in place.
Barriers to Elderly Use of Technology
With the same technologies that bring us wireless communication and the Internet, new solutions to old problems come in a variety of forms. While seniors are certainly adopting these ideas, there are differences among the aging population. For older seniors, there is more resistance to new technologies. And if a senior is in a lower income bracket, there may be financial barriers to adopting some of the best tools.
Some other barriers relate to a person’s physical ability to use the devices. Many smart phones and tablets use small buttons that are not always easy to see. The words and text may be too small to read well and some technologies just take too much time to learn. For some seniors, they may not feel it is worth the bother if they have lived this long without such devices! In fact, according to a Pew Research on the topic, among those seniors who do not use the Internet, 35% disagree that they are missing important information and another 18% strongly disagree that they are missing out.
Common Technologies for Seniors
Regardless of attitudes, cost, or ability, there are perhaps more technologies to help people age in place than ever before. Take a look:
- Laptops - These are convenient for seniors because they can use them anywhere. Many affordable laptops now come with touchscreen action - which works very well for seniors who may have motor and vision skill limitations.
- Tablets - the best of the best is the iPad and it works beautifully. It is a touch screen and its operating system will play videos, apps, music, etc. and comes with a camera and video recorder. If you want access to everything, the iPad is the way to go. Cons? It is pricey!
- Online Services - What about an easier email system designed for seniors who are unfamiliar with email - like "PawPawMail?" Using "cloud" based services that share photos - like Snapfish - can often mean user-friendliness without hassles.
- The Jitterbug - One great cell phone for the senior who does not really want anything fancy is the “Jitterbug.” This is a great simple cell flip-phone with an affordable, no-contract monthly fee. The buttons are large and there is a built-in health and safety alert service to get help if anything goes wrong called “5Star.” You do have to purchase the phone and it comes with a camera.
- Smart Phones - If you want to go “high end” – Samsung and iPhone have come out with newer versions of their smart phones that show off a larger screen – ideal for those who have trouble with buttons and seeing small print.
- GreatCall Touch3 - this is similar to the Jitterbug in that it is designed with seniors in mind, but it is a touch-screen/smart phone. You can browse the Internet and download apps. They made the buttons large and easy to use and it also comes with the same 5Star service and low monthly fee. This is overall more expensive than the Jitterbug, but has more functions along with a better camera.
- Government Sponsored Cell Phones - Assurance, Reachout, and Safelink are all part of a government program to offer free cell phones for those who cannot afford it. You have to qualify financially and be enrolled in a financial assistance program like Medicaid or food stamps. It comes with 250 free minutes and 250 free texts and you can purchase more if necessary. You apply online at one of these websites: Assurance, Reachout, and Safelink.
- Facebook - Younger sets are moving away from Facebook (that was so last season!) toward newer sites – but for the 50-64 year olds, Facebook is still very “cool.” It allows seniors to stay in touch with family, share pictures and stay up to date with news of the day and friends.
- Skype - is a “face-to-face” video “chat” online. You can “Skype” grandchildren, children, and friends. This “in-person” ability is wonderful for seniors who may live far from family and who may enjoy regular contact in a more personal way than just a phone call. You need a computer with a camera or a device that can capture images in order to do it. The service is free to members and membership is free.
Check-in Calls, Monitors, and Reminders
- Home Monitors - Today, there are all sorts of ways to monitor seniors at home. There are wireless sensors that can communicate information back to a caregiver – like BeClose and a series of great products at Smart Caregiver that can help a caregiver with knowing when an elderly person is on the move for fall and wandering prevention. These monitors include motion detectors, door alarms, mats installed by the bed, and bed monitors. Many work wirelessly to an alarm for the caregiver or a simple pager. There are also more sophisticated (and expensive) monitoring devices often used in assisted living facilities like Quiet Care.
- Automated Reminder and Check-in Phone Calls - One way to check in on an elderly person is to set up SageMinder Care Calls. This is a simple call on the senior’s regular phone to a senior. The senior must interact with the call and then a message is relayed to the caregiver so he or she can tell if everything is all right. This is a great tool for a caregiver who may be juggling many daytime activities like children and a job outside the home – but who wants to be assured that everything is okay during the day. The messages relayed to the caregiver can come by text or email. This type of system is very affordable and quite easy for both the caregiver and senior to use and set up.
- Medication Reminder Calls - This type of system can be anything from a medication reminder “watch” that a senior wears, a pill dispensing locked medication box, or simple calls from SageMinder – which are interactive and able to be scheduled for specific dosage times. Again, the caregiver is notified of the results of the call and can tell if there is a problem with medication adherence.
Safety and Medical Alerts
- Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS) or “Medical Alert” Necklaces - These types of devices come in a variety of forms but all essentially allow a senior to wear a watch, necklace or bracelet that communicates with a push of a button that help is needed urgently. The iconic “Help, I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up” commercials of the past are what these devices are useful for.
- Finding A Senior Who Wanders -There are several variations of this type of device, which relies on GPS technology to locate a person. One leader is “Pocket Finder” and sells at Wal-Mart for under $150. It does not require a subscription fee. Essentially, you place the device – which is the size of a pocket watch – in a person’s pocket and if they wander away from home, you can locate them on any internet-based device through a web portal. This is a great tool if you have a loved one with dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease and you are frequently worried about their safety.
- The “Grand-Daddy” of Them All - Then there is the “Grandcare” System." This system does just about everything. It can Skype, Facebook, monitor, text caregivers of elder’s activity, store pictures, video chat and more. You have to buy the unit – which is a simplified touch screen device for the senior. And then, to connect with all the features, you need to purchase the service for a monthly fee. This is relatively expensive compared to many of the home-based technologies.
Free Apps and Programs For Seniors and Caregivers
If a senior is using a smart phone or tablet, there are a variety of cool and free apps for everything already discussed. Some popular ones:
- MySage - Set up a free calendar with free unlimited text and email reminders for appointments or medication reminders. Set up a Family Care Center to communicate "socially" with just your family about a loved one's medical condition, and set "TrackIts" with free text and email reminders for setting health and fitness related goals with prompts and reminders to keep you on track.
- Luminosity – This is a “brain-game” app that improves cognitive ability and may even prevent Alzheimer’s Disease. Research has shown that brain-stimulating activities can help keep cognition in tact and even improve key functions like memory.
- Drugs.com – this app allows you to make your own drug list, identify pills by appearance, and get useful information about any medication. This is a great tool if you have a lot of medicines and need to keep track of them.
- Yesterday USA – This app can play different “oldies” radio stations all day for free. If you just have a computer, you can go to http://yesterdayustx.rad.io/ and select oldies type stations to listen through your laptop or personal computer as well.
Tips for Seniors and Technology
It is important to consider cost, usefulness, and the abilities of the senior using the device when selecting technologies for seniors. Every day, new technologies are created to help stay in touch, keep track of health, and remain safe at home. Before buying online, look for a phone number to call the company and discuss the technology. You may get better information if you can ask specific questions that relate to your loved one. Also, bear in mind that technologies may be challenging for someone who is not used to using them. Patience and understanding resistance to new technologies can go a long way in making something work in the long-run. Systems like SageMinder can help because the elderly person can simply use a technology he or she is already comfortable with - a regular phone. And systems like Quiet Care do not require the senior to do anything different at all except go about his or her day normally. So, consider technologies that do not require a lot of stress to learn a new system or equipment.