Grandma’s Little Helpers: Gadgets & Tech for Seniors

Grandma’s Little Helpers
Grandma’s Little Helpers

Are there tech-savvy seniors? Yes! A growing number of older adults are turning the old stereotype on its head. Although these seniors (probably) won’t be applying for a Geek Squad job, they are totally comfortable using personal and home tech in their everyday life.

Where are they finding these gadgets and apps? There’s a large and growing market for senior-friendly technology. The US census projects that by the year 2034, people 65 and over will outnumber children under 18. These seniors are a big part of the marketplace, and they’re on the hunt for home and life tech solutions. Manufacturers are finding ways to help them live with greater comfort, safety, and independence.

Senior-Friendly Gadgets and Homes

Smart homes can make life a lot more convenient, but sometimes they create frustration instead of solving problems. This is usually a case of too much, too fast. If every light bulb and major appliance has a smart function, and every room has its own Echo Dot, residents may struggle to get the smart home to respond correctly.

A senior-friendly smart home may need to prioritize certain upgrades over a comprehensive system. Think about the lights by the doors, stairs, and bathroom. Consider automatic shut-off switches on stoves, heaters, etc. Smart fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are a good idea. A Ring home security system may be priority, or smart door locks and garage doors.

When seniors become confident in managing their smart home, they can always add more functions and gadgets. For instance, smart fitness equipment takes remote classes to another level. The fitness trainer can monitor how you’re doing, track progress, and give personalized feedback.

Other senior-optimized smart gadgets and apps could include virtual assistants, which recognize voice commands and manage many of a smart phone’s functions for the senior. And apps like Aira or Be My Eyes offer visually impaired users a way to make brief video calls with sighted volunteers. A senior could ask if makeup looks right, or help to read the expiration date on products – the list of tiny helping tasks is endless.

Today’s Bluetooth-connected hearing aids are compatible with phones and TVs, as well as having advanced functions like noise cancellation. Then there are the medical alert pendants, life alert systems and other wearables such as smart watches. Many of these automatically detect falls and alert caregivers or call emergency services. At the routine level, gadgets like smart pill dispensers include medication reminders, record missed doses, and have backup power sources.

Remote monitoring falls somewhere between a gadget and a smart-home improvement. Systems like Amazon’s Alexa Together send the caregiver real-time updates on their loved one, offering updates to show when a senior wakes up or sleeps, and how active they’re being, as well as a variety of emergency alerts and more.

A remote monitoring system acts like an unobtrusive safety net for the senior, especially as they choose increasingly to age in place. They get to continue enjoying their independence, and caregivers who don’t live in the home get peace of mind. It’s also simpler than a full smart-home network. Even with cutting-edge tech, simpler is sometimes better.

Multi-tools vs Screwdrivers

The tech market has long followed a trend of more features crammed into smaller devices, with the smart-phone sector as a perfect example. These electronic multi-tools, and their user manuals,  keep growing larger and more complicated.

This is a new design philosophy entering the healthcare industry which has focused on stand-alone devices focused on specific purposes. Now Silicon Valley is greatly interested in joining this market with ancillary services provided by its own software and algorithms. How well this is working remains to be seen.

Even so, while the dedicated pendant or clip-on devices can detect falls better than the wrist-worn devices, and have first-response call centers standing by, Big Tech is catching up. The Apple watch can monitor blood oxygen, detect falls (although still with false alarms), and connect the wearer directly to 911 emergency services (but not to intermediary call centers). It also does everything else we’re used to, such as answering texts, purchasing items, streaming music and shows, etc.

Seniors who are already familiar with Apple devices may take easily to the Apple Watch. If not, they’ll face a steep learning curve. These people may prefer dedicated devices with simpler interfaces, the screwdrivers of the wearable tech world.

Grandparents are Joining the Digital Age

Many seniors don’t need to be sold on what tech can do for them. They already see its potential to help them stay connected, manage their health, and age in place safely and comfortably. Instead, the sticking point is often the tech itself. The right approach or product can flatten that learning curve so they can get the most from their new digital helpers.

Sometimes, this can mean sticking with a brand they’re familiar with and slowly upgrading to more advanced products. Other times, it may take a mindset shift. Instead of the senior wrestling with the most advanced gadget available, they may thrive with something that offers fewer functions in a very user-friendly format.

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