Old Dogs Learning New Tricks

By Chelle Cordero

December 15, 2014 5 min read

It was a very different world when many older adults were growing up. Televisions (for those who had one) were black-and-white with a limited number of channels, books had pages to turn, phones had rotary dials and were connected with actual wires, no man had yet walked on the moon, and "on line" actually meant standing with others and waiting your turn.

Over the decades, there have been numerous inventions and advancements. Seniors have been forced to learn to use "new-fangled machines" and technologies. Today's employers require computer and technological skills. At home, televisions, washer/dryer combinations, stoves and even vacuum cleaners work off of programmable electronic controls. Facetime on phone and computer screens makes staying in touch with family members easier when miles separate them. Email and digital photos allow for instant sharing and interactions that can help to alleviate the loneliness and exclusion felt by less mobile seniors whose families live far away.

A Pew Research Center 2013 tracking survey regarding use of the Internet by seniors disclosed, "Two different groups of older Americans emerge. The first group (which leans toward younger, more highly educated, or more affluent seniors) has relatively substantial technology assets, and also has a positive view toward the benefits of online platforms. The other (which tends to be older and less affluent, often with significant challenges with health or disability) is largely disconnected from the world of digital tools and services, both physically and psychologically." Some older adults are limited when it comes to embracing new technology because of physical and visual impairments, financial hardship, limited incomes, difficulty learning to use new technologies, and an unwillingness to accept something they got along without for so many years.

There are several devices that make life easier and safer for seniors. Some help the elderly age in place and continue to live independently. Such devices monitor their well-being, keep them in close contact with emergency and medical response teams, and track their fitness and activity levels. Wireless sensors, worn as a pendant, feature an emergency push-button that allows someone to call for assistance even when they can't reach a phone. Many models also work in conjunction with sensors that can detect unusual events such as a fall or a lack of motion. Activity trackers worn by the user record physical activity (from how many steps are taken to full exercise routines) and let the user know whether they are maintaining a healthy level of fitness. Programmable electronic medicine dispensers ensure that pills are taken on time, which is especially useful when multiple pills are required on a daily basis.

The right technology can help enhance a senior's experience while accommodating visual, auditory or dexterity needs. E-readers allow the convenience of 24-hour shopping for new reading material from the user's location, On these devices, one can store hundreds of books, making them ideal for traveling, and users can download newspapers to easily switch between popular books and current events. Most dedicated e-readers offer multiple font sizes, making it convenient for the visually impaired. At least one, the Amazon Kindle, has a text-to-speech feature that allows readers to listen to a book. There are no complicated connects; the e-reader downloads new material through Wi-Fi or 4G technology.

The telyHD TV adapter (which requires an HDMI connection) allows seniors to Skype with family. Computers such as the HP TouchSmart enable seniors to use social media sites, exchange emails, play games and do online research with touch screen, keyboard or voice activation. The Samsung Touch3 cellphone offers a simplified app menu, large "buttons" and a usage plan that caters more to the individual's needs. Electronic key-finders that fit on a key ring chirp when remotely activated for easy location. Smart-pens can transcribe the written word into electronic lists that can be emailed or filed on a digital device.

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