How Technology Is Helping Seniors Live Better Lives
Although seniors may be slower than their younger counterparts to adopt new technologies, they may benefit more from technology than any other age group. According to Pew Research, two-thirds of adults age 65 and older use the internet, which, in addition to the usual benefits, helps many seniors stay connected to family and friends, an essential part of aging well. Almost half of seniors own a smartphone and as baby boomers try to age in place, they’re finding that there are many apps and other technological devices that help them live more independently. Here are just a few tools that help seniors lead more productive and enjoyable lives.
The main advantage of desktop computers and laptops is that they provide access to the internet. This allows seniors to have a plethora of information at their fingertips, have the ability to create email and Facebook accounts (which allows them to stay in closer contact with family and friends) and watch videos and play games. A study conducted by University of Exeter researchers concluded that adults aged 60 to 95 who received computer equipment and training “had heightened feelings of self-competence, engaged more in social activity, had a stronger sense of personal identity, and showed improved cognitive capacity.”
As with the population at large, smartphones help seniors stay in closer touch with family and friends, get information quickly, and provide driving directions to unfamiliar locations. One advantage of smartphones is that most provide voice capabilities, making it easier for those with arthritis or other chronic conditions. Additionally, there are apps that provide medication reminders and track how many steps the user takes each day or how many flights of stairs they have climbed. There are even sensors that can monitor home activity and send an alert to the smartphone of a loved one, letting them know that a senior may be in trouble. For those who prefer something less bulky (and more attractive to wear!), there are also smart watches that perform these medical monitoring functions, such as a dramatic change in heart rate or a notice that someone has fallen. As falls are a major factor in people having to make a move to assisted living or a nursing home, these devices help seniors “age in place” in their own homes.
Tablets have many of the technologies of smartphones, with the advantage of having a larger screen than smartphones, making for a better reading and viewing experience for newspaper articles, watching videos, and playing online games. They are more convenient and portable than computers, making them the perfect device for many seniors to access the internet and stay in touch with loved ones. A study from the University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for Vital Longevity suggests that tablets may be able to help older adults keep their brains sharp. They divided study participants into three groups – those who received iPads, those who were tasked with having conversations about assigned topics and those who did activities such as working on word puzzles. All three groups took cognitive tests before and after the study. Results showed that the iPad group was better able to recall information about past experiences and were able to do simple mental tasks more quickly.
These devices include Amazon’s Echo (Alexa) and Google’s Assistant. They can provide reminders to take medication or turn off the stove, play music, engage with other smart technology in the home to turn off lights or turn up the temperature, and dispense information – everything from the current temperature to how far the earth is from the sun. In a small study conducted at the Carlsbad by the Sea retirement community in California, Alexa was introduced to 50 residents, most of whom were older than 80. Seventy-five percent of study participants used their voice-first devices daily and almost as many said Alexa helped them feel more connected to family, friends and the rest of their community. The devices also gave them more independence, as they no longer needed to ask help from staff members to turn on lights or adjust the temperature of their room.
The full potential of personal robots has yet to be realized. Currently, personal robots can vacuum your floor, dispense information, and keep you company. New innovations that are just entering the marketplace or being tested include robots that can assist with everyday tasks such as getting food from the kitchen, washing your hair, dispensing medication and helping people get in and out of wheelchairs. In addition to helping out with personal tasks, personal robots can provide a steady companion, which may help ease loneliness and keep seniors more engaged in life, which, as we have discussed before, in essential to aging well.