An airbag belt to avoid broken hips, more

I know dozens of tech-savvy seniors who rely on the latest technology to help them through their lives.

Take my own parents, for example: every morning, my 83-year-old father rehabs his new Tivanium alloy knee on a recumbent bike while reading the news on his iPhone. He also answers phone calls directly in his ears with near-invisible, high-tech Bluetooth-connected hearing aids.

The same goes for my 77-year-old mother. She takes to YouTube to figure out how to do everything from repairing a lawn mower to antique dresser. She FaceTimes with my daughter regularly and keeps her surprisingly busy schedule well organized on her smartphone.

More often than not in recent years, these increasingly high-tech adaptations in the daily routine of seniors can improve the lives of seniors and the people who love them.

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Technological tools for “aging in place”

We are the luckiest though. My parents are in excellent health and can afford the modern conveniences that so many “young people” take for granted, such as a reliable internet connection and a smartphone. I’m usually there to help them with whatever they need, whether it’s a new tool to solve a specific problem or personal IT support.

While the use of technology is also increasing for the rest of the aging population, it still lags far behind the younger generations. Soon there will be more old people than young people in America. According to the Washington-based Urban Institute think tank, “the number of [people] 85 and over, the group most often needing help with basic personal care, will almost quadruple between 2000 and 2040.”

That means we need more technologies that cater to this crowd and gadgets that help the rising tide of struggling people in the sandwich generation. As the pandemic has so grimly underscored, more people than ever are caring for aging loved ones while raising children and often working full time.

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Smartphones, webcams and even virtual reality headsets help, but experts say they’re not enough. “Simplification awaits. Whether it’s setting up a smart home, a new appliance, or a plug-and-play phone, one-button start is always a future. [must-have]wrote Laurie Orlov, senior analyst at Aging and Health Tech Watch, in its 2022 State of the Industry Report.

The latest technology tools are to provide a watchful eye, critical human connection, and renewed comfort to the nearly 80% of people over 50 who want to live the rest of their lives in their own homes. They must also be secure, minimally invasive and easy to use. It’s a tall order, but many companies are at least starting to deal with it.

There are already some great tools emerging in this space. Here are some of the best I’ve worked with so far.

Robot roommate

The ElliQ digital roommate can pick up patterns, learn daily routines, and remember what you say to it, which adds a level of empathy and personalization to the whole experience.

ElliQ ($249.99 + $29.99/month) is a friendly little robot companion that sits on a base next to a tablet and comes to life when you use it, either by saying “its” name or simply by your physical presence in the room. “Elle” speaks in a natural, conversational language – much like a cross between Siri and Wall-E – and is billed as the first “digital care companion designed specifically for seniors 65+”.

If she feels something is wrong, she can call for help from a pre-programmed list of primary contacts. She can also start a video call and send text messages. With onboard AI, ElliQ can pick up patterns, learn daily routines, and remember what you tell it, which adds a level of empathy and personalization to the whole experience.

Tablets designed for people aged 75 and over

The GrandPad ($57/month for the annual plan, $89 for the month-to-month) is a high-tech tablet designed specifically for people who might otherwise be tech-disabled. It’s pre-programmed with easy-to-see categories, so all you have to do is plug it in and go. The built-in 4GLTE means it can connect anytime, anywhere without having to worry about Wi-Fi, another key feature as many assisted living facilities have poor or spotty internet service.

It comes with built-in games, music streaming, private family photo and video streams, and an easy-to-use Zoom app for group video calls. In the event of a problem, a simple click brings up a support agent at any time of the day or night.

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Animatronic Buddies

Rita Melone, 93, came up with the idea for the Walker Squawker, an animatronic bird that attaches to mobility devices.  It chirps, responds to the hiss, and responds to a few gentle pats on the back of its head with a sweet little coo similar to Tribble's.

Studies show that pets contribute to overall health, combating loneliness and social isolation. To get the joy of a pet without the work, check out Ageless Innovations’ Joy for All Companion animatronic pals, including the all-new Walker Squawker ($64.99, available June).

This latest animatronic pet is the brainchild of 93-year-old Rita Melone. She brought the concept to Ageless Innovations after she forgot to use her walker when she got up. She wanted something small enough to perch on her real metal walker, but comfortable enough to live with on a daily basis.

You can hold the bird palm-sized or place it on the included magnet on a Velcro strap that wraps around a walking rail. It chirps, responds to the hiss, and responds to a few gentle pats on the back of its head with a sweet little coo similar to Tribble’s.

The Walker Squawker joins the already popular Ageless Innovation Puppies and Cats that I have covered on several occasions. Puppies ($139.99) bark and cats ($124.99) meow, turn their heads at the sound of your voice, respond to touch, and you even feel a heartbeat when you hug them.

A more proactive pill dispenser

The Hero Pill Dispenser ($99.99 + $24.99/month) is a countertop device the size of a small coffee maker that can dispense up to 90 days of 10 different medications and let caregivers know when to how much their elderly parent takes them regularly.  .

Remember taking your prescriptions can be difficult for anyone, but it’s especially important as we get older and have more complex medication needs. The Hero Pill Organizer ($99.99 + $24.99/month) is a countertop device about the size of a small coffee maker. It stores, sorts and dispenses up to 90 days supply of 10 different medications.

You can pour pills into a cartridge and slip it into the dispenser without having to count or sort anything – it’s all automatic. The companion app sends alerts when it’s time to take a dose and provides real-time compliance data to caregivers and families caring for loved ones.

One of my only gripes is that you have to configure everything with arrows, much like older versions of Smart TV remotes, versus the simpler push-to-program touchscreen. Because of this, it requires more setup than most of the other gadgets on this list, so be sure to help with the setup yourself or be prepared to find someone who can.

Next-gen ‘I fell and I can’t get up’

Do you know those life jackets that inflate when you hit the water?  There is now a version that offers airbags to prevent seniors from breaking their hips in a fall.

Falls and accidents – at home or on the go – are a huge problem for older people trying to live independent lives. According to the CDC, 1 in 4 older adults fall each year, making falls the leading cause of injury-related death among older adults in the United States. It’s an alarming number, but personal medical devices like the ($37.95/month) can help.

The Sidekick is a small, lightweight portable with a help button that summons emergency help at any time. With built-in GPS and advanced fall detection, it knows when help is needed and directs responders to the exact location.

For a preview of what’s to come in this category, check out the Tango Belt (currently in clinical trial). This ‘smart belt’ can detect a serious hip impact fall, deploy airbags around the hips and alert caregivers for help. It’s in the middle of a clinical trial and should be out next year.

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