***This story and video originally ran/aired on USA Today. It’s reposted here with permission.***
Brooklyn resident Marilyn Stone* isn’t your typical early tech adopter. She’s 95 years old, can’t see or hear very well anymore, and grew up in a time when the hottest new gadgets around were toaster ovens and zippers. Today? She’s not sure what she would do without her Amazon Echo smart speaker.
“Alexa has been a miracle,” the spirited senior tells me over the phone, “I ask ‘what is the weather,’ and get an answer. Alexa turns on my lights, tells me what time it is, and when to take my pills.”
Stone is now one of the 16.7 million older Americans living alone at home, with the help of her three daughters who live nearby, a part-time caregiver, and a few simple modern tech tools.
Turns out, this simple digital dose of daily life might soon be just what the doctor orders for both older adults and the people who love them.
NOT YOUR KIDS TECH BOOM ANYMORE
There’s a major elder-care tech evolution underway. With some 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 in America every single day, seniors are expected to outnumber children within the next fifteen years. So all those big tech companies cranking out shiny new gadgets? Many are thinking about shifting focus to seniors, as the active aging market is expected to triple to nearly $30 billion in just three years.
WHY THIS IS SO IMPORTANT
For the more than ninety-five percent of people ages 65 and older who want to live out the remainder of their lives in the comfort of their own homes, the latest gadgets can help keep them safe, comfortable, and independent.
But there’s another huge part of the population to consider here too: The sandwich generation. One in every eight Americans now cares for an aging parent, while raising a family of their own. For them, innovative tech tools can provide a watchful eye, constant connection, and the comfort of knowing everything’s okay.
“[New tech] provides the very basic things that my Mom needs moment-to-moment,” Marilyn Stone’s 61-year old daughter Dani tells me. “She doesn’t have to rely on me for every little thing, like to tell her what time it is or to take her medicine.”
(can lose this part – not sure if it helps or not) Dani said it took her about an hour to set-up the new gadgets for her Mom. She also wrote the word “Alexa” in Sharpie on large pieces of paper and put them around the house to remind Marilyn of the Echo’s “wake-up” word. “It’s these little things,” Dani explains, “it’s what makes her feel human and that’s what she should have.”
Here are some of the other new gadgets providing turn-key tech support for seniors and the people who love them.
CarePredict’s Tempo Series 3 looks like a stylish smartwatch or fitness tracker. It’s tiny, but powerful, packed with sensors that know when Grandma or Grandpa is sitting, walking, sleeping, eating, or even brushing their teeth. It can sense critical changes and alert caregivers to poor sleep quality or mobility issues that could increase the risk of a fall.
For the past few years, the Tempo has been used mainly in nursing homes, pushing all of its data to staff who can spot problems before they arise. A built-in two-way microphone lets seniors contact help whenever they need it, and it even doubles as a door key, making life that much simpler.
For the first time ever, CarePredict’s Tempo and sensors are available for people to buy and install at home too.
I gave an Ageless Innovation Joy For All Companion pup to my former mother-in-law who suffers from Alzheimer’s and it’s been her constant companion ever since. She absolutely loves it — and for good reason — these animatronic pups and cats feel real. They bark and meow, turn their head at the sound of your voice, respond to touch, and you even feel a heartbeat when you hug it.
Studies show that a furry companion can help you maintain healthy blood pressure and combat feelings of loneliness and social isolation. These furry friends are a comfort when needed, and they’re perfect for pet lovers who simply can’t manage the day-to-day care of an animal.
A BREAK FROM FALLS
Every 11 seconds, a fall sends a senior to an emergency room, and for those who break a hip, twenty percent die within a year of the injury. It’s a fear that keeps many would-be active seniors from staying mobile.
The Tango belt wants to make those jaw-dropping numbers a thing of the past with a belt that’s easy to wear, unobtrusive, loaded with sophisticated sensors that can detect a fall, and can even deploy personal airbags. The airbags automatically pop-out in an instant, absorbing the impact and protecting fragile hips. After triggering the soft cushion, the belt sends out alerts to caregivers letting them know that a senior has taken a tumble and might need help.
You don’t have to be a senior to know how big of a pain it can be to remember to take medication. Pill organizers can help, up to a point, but can new tech truly save the day?
Black & Decker’s Pria personal medication assistant is a step in the right direction. This pint-sized machine lives on any countertop and it’s like if Alexa and Facebook’s Portal had a baby. The killer feature here is the built-in “pill wheel” that dispenses meds and chimes reminders so that no one misses any doses. Scheduling the dispenser is a cinch with the Pria app, but filling all the pill slots is still a bit of a chore. Pria sweetens the deal with a built-in webcam with two-way video calling for check-ins with loved ones.
A VIRTUAL STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE
Virtual reality can take you just about anywhere in the blink of an eye. But let’s be real, VR is too complicated for the average person, let alone someone who hasn’t even heard of it before.
Rendever, a VR startup led by a pair of MIT grads, provides all-in-one virtual reality systems to senior living communities – and the results will make you cry. Slip a headset over a senior’s eyes, and thanks to Google Maps and 360-degree video, watch them get swept away on a virtual visit to their childhood home, stroll down an alley in Paris, or even attend a grandchild’s soccer game through a secure “family engagement portal.”
*Ms. Stone’s family requested that we use an alternate version of her name so that no one will target her for elder abuse.