Living independently and aging in place is what most aging adults prefer, and for good reasons. People desire the comfort and familiarity of home, wherever that might be.
For some, moving to independent senior living or a co-housing community is the best fit for them. Regardless of where someone calls home, staying independent is the difference between an active, functional life, and increasing care needs leading to a higher level of care.
Jump ahead to these sections:
Technology is a term covering an enormous subject area that affects all aspects of human life. As the aging population grows, developers have flooded the market with gadgets and software programs that enhance the lives of and protect seniors.
Deciding what is best for you will depend on your current functioning level, comfort level with technology, and budget. There are thousands of products to choose from, and we will simplify things by identifying some of the top products and gadgets. Know that whatever you need, though, you can probably find it.
Top Gadgets to Help Seniors Live Independently
Gadgets for seniors can be overwhelming. You probably don’t want to buy many products that won’t actually help and end up being a waste of money. It is well worth your time to read reviews of products to get a clearer picture of their quality, usability, and price. Our top gadget choices are not listed in terms of importance, as they can be useful to many people at different ages and times.
1. Home accessibility features
Home accessibility is crucial for someone of any age due to the unpredictability of accidents and illness. If you have had this experience, you know what we mean. A fall and broken limb, and you suddenly can’t take a shower without grab bars or a detachable showerhead. Here is a list of essential features to consider.
- Grab bars: Grab bars are standard features in newer buildings, homes, and facilities. Grab bars do not have to detract from the look of your home. Several beautiful grab bars for the bathroom will blend in with any decor. Just make sure they are correctly installed, or they can create a safety hazard. Getting the advice of an occupational therapist on location and a licensed contractor to install them is a good idea.
- Handrails: Handrails are an essential safety feature that should be installed on steps leading up to the house and inside on any stairs. Many older homes have the laundry on the lower level of the home. Stairs create a fall risk, and handrails can help.
- Walk-in shower: This addition can incur some expense, but you will be glad you have it when you need it. Stepping into a tub shower not only increases the risk of a fall, but it is also unsafe if you are recuperating from an accident.
- Improved lighting: Improving lighting is a way to decrease falls and increase the feeling of security. Some lights automatically come on when you enter the room, and others are voice-activated.
2. Emergency Response System (ERS)
Emergency Response Systems can be lifesavers. ERS is so sophisticated now that they have GPS systems, fall detection, and emergency alert to several numbers.
Some older adults don’t like the look of the pendant style ERS, so they would prefer something like a watch. For example, the Apple watch has fall detection, a heart rate monitor, an EKG, and more. However, it does take some time to properly set up a device like this.
One crucial piece of information about ERS is that they have to be worn to be effective. If someone falls and doesn’t have their device on and can’t reach it, that could be disastrous. That’s why it is so important to get a system that someone feels comfortable wearing.
3. Laptop, iPad, or smartphone
These devices may be at the top of anyone’s list. A laptop, smartphone, and a good internet connection have become almost indispensable to independence, health, and well-being.
More simplified versions of tablets include the GrandPad, which has a more straightforward interface. The reasons that tablets, computers, or smartphones are vital are numerous. These reasons include the following:
- Telehealth visits have increased to the point where many healthcare providers may continue to use them as an adjunct to in-person visits. Aging adults don’t have to leave their homes for routine or non-urgent visits with health providers. Teletherapy allows seniors to get psychotherapy easily and safely in the privacy of their own home.
- Zoom, FaceTime, and other video conferencing platforms allow seniors to connect with family all over the world. With the pandemic, these services have exploded in popularity due to enforced quarantines. Expect that seniors will continue to communicate with family using these platforms.
- Virtual tours, group forums, chat rooms, and a host of other virtual groups keep people connected and combat loneliness.
- Educational opportunities are almost infinite, from online learning classes to medical information, fitness classes, and much more.
4. In-home monitoring systems
In-home monitoring systems are incredibly sophisticated and can also be a bit complicated. Installing cameras to monitor your loved ones and their caregivers is possible, but some people object to cameras as they can be an invasion of privacy.
Other systems detect movement, opening windows, carbon monoxide, falls, sleep patterns, and wandering. These in-home monitoring systems allow family members to be alerted of any problems before they become serious. The camera feed is viewed from a remote computer.
5. Voice-activated speakers
These devices are great for anyone, but especially for people who have sight or mobility problems. For example, the Amazon Echo is voice-activated and can even interface with other devices such as the Ring doorbell. Amazon Echo can help call people, play music, control your lights and appliances, answer questions, and more.
Google Nest is similar to Amazon Echo and has added features for those who wish to connect multiple home devices and controls to voice activation. Google Nest has security features like cameras, thermostat control, voice-activated music, as well as access to all of Google’s search features.
5. Medication reminders and dispensers/delivery
If you forget to take your medications and vitamins, you are not alone. We all forget from time to time, but as people age—especially adults with cognitive impairment—this can be a significant issue. Often someone can do well without any personal assistance but may struggle to manage multiple medications.
Medication dispensers and reminders range from very simple to doing almost everything except swallowing the pills. There are medication units that are weekly, monthly, and up to six times a day.
If you are considering purchasing one, it is worth keeping in mind whether your loved one can understand and use the device. A reminder will be useless if your family member ignores the alarm.
Medication delivery services are not a gadget but a beneficial service for people who can’t pick up their medications. Pills can be packaged in bubble packs according to the day and amount to take.
When someone stops driving, they lose freedom and independence. Many of us have no problem using our smartphones to call Uber or Lyft when we need a ride. Seniors who don’t have smartphones don’t have this option. There are alternative senior transportation programs and services, but they can be complicated and require advanced scheduling.
Companies like GoGograndparent fill the transportation gap, allowing people to call one number for grocery delivery, pharmacy delivery, meals, and transportation through Uber and Lyft.
7. Wander alarms
A common characteristic of Alzheimer’s and dementia is wandering. A loved one can slip through the door and be gone in a matter of minutes. A wander alarm can notify a caregiver or family member that the door has opened.
Quick Tips for Helping Aging Adults Use Technology
Now that you have an idea of what tech gadgets are out there for seniors, you and your loved one need to figure out how to use them. This is the hard part. Older adults have a great deal of tech know-how and expertise, but some may struggle in this category.
The fear and reluctance that seniors have around learning technology can be a frustrating barrier to using gadgets that will make them safer and happier.
In-person instruction is probably the best way to teach and for seniors to learn technology.
A grandchild can be an excellent option for teaching, but they must be patient and speak slowly. Regardless of who is doing the instructing, plan on several visits and tackle one technology project at a time.
Classes at assisted living communities, colleges, and senior centers are a great way to get a senior comfortable using technology. Virtual classes are also possible, but someone has to know enough to handle using a computer and getting online.
Adult learning programs are full of classes on how to use technology. Instruction can be very basic or complex, depending on skill level.
Write down instructions
It is impressive how effective, simple step-by-step instructions can be. Typed in large print is best, so it is easy to read and access. Also, explain that with any technology gadget, things go wrong, and it isn’t necessarily their fault.
In-house tech support
More and more senior living communities understand the value of keeping their residents happy and safe. Some are starting to designate a staff person to assist residents with their tech problems.
If your loved one lives in a senior community, suggest this idea. Often the fix is straightforward, and it saves everyone time and travel to have in-house support.
Consider starting with a smartphone
Before getting too crazy with too many technology gadgets, beginning with a smartphone might be a good solid start. Smartphones are adaptable, creative, and flexible.
In time, becoming familiar with interfacing with a smartphone will open the door to more complicated devices. Also, smartphones are less likely to experience the kinds of glitches that make seniors want to give up.
Tech Gadgets to Help Seniors Live Independently
We have just scratched the surface of available tech gadgets to help a senior live not only independently but thrive. Explore all of the options and find the right systems for you and your loved one.
Technology can feel like it is unreachable, but as we have seen over the past two decades, people have found ways to adapt and integrate these devices into their lives. If they can do it, so can you.