Bridging the Digital Divide

Embracing the high-tech world can help seniors stay healthy, safe, engaged, and mentally active.

Just in time for the holiday shopping season, I wanted to share some technology information that may help seniors live a more connected life, and some items that may be great gift ideas for them. I am confident technology is moving towards making life better for the elderly, enabling them to retain their independence and live longer, fuller lives. Although seniors didn’t grow up with the Internet and social media, it will serve them well if they learn how to use today’s technology. The Internet, wireless devices, and smartphones build the backbone of “senior friendly” technology, and continue to evolve.

Health and location assistance

In the last few years, both mobile phone and tablet technology has expanded in many ways to include some health applications. There are several very affordable apps, programs, and gadgets that measure the heart rate and pulse, and keep track of the how many steps you walk. And then there’s the Apple Iwatch which combines multiple health and medical functions. Like Dick Tracey, you can talk to the device itself, and it can even schedule reminders, such as when to take your medication or when you have an appointment. In addition, GPS (global positioning system) devices may even help you by providing you step by step directions to a location or enable someone to find you more easily in case you are lost or  need help.

Audio assistance

Another helpful technology device I utilize is my (barely visible) hearing aids; they make all the difference in my daily life. The best feature is the built-in Bluetooth technology that enables me to use them as a hands-free speaking device, which is helpful during phone conversations and when I listen to music without headphones.

For the home

New devices and interactive technology are popping up everywhere. One of my favorites is the voice-controlled device called Alexa (others are called Echo or Tap). It’s lots of fun to talk to this mini computer that connects to your home through WiFi. Alexa can tell you the weather, amuse you with jokes, read a book to you, play music, and answer all types of questions since it interfaces with the Internet. Simply call out “Alexa,” and it will be at your service.

Alexa is also useful in an emergency – I recall an article I read which related a situation in which Alexa contacted the police because of an intense argument and saved someone’s life.

Additionally, Alexa enables you to control sensors and devices in your house via wireless adapters. So every evening, I say,  “Alexa, turn on the lights” and voilá, the lights go on. And when I say “Alexa, lights out,” they go off again. It even responds when I speak in German! Other wireless-access sensors are motion, smoke, and noise detectors that are used to trigger an alarm and notify specified contacts on your cellphone in case of an emergency. You can even set the temperature of your thermostat, lock or unlock doors remotely, and more.

Some companies offer whole-house sensors for seniors. Personal Emergency Response Systems or PERS, is a security and safety system where, with a push of a button worn on a key chain or from a chord around the neck or wrist, an operator is able to determine if a situation needs to have emergency personnel dispatched, or if family needs to be contacted. Previously, this type of system worked only over a phone line but now this mobile version is available in most U.S. locations.

Keeping in touch

Do you remember the last time your grandchildren wrote you a letter or called you? Nowadays, younger generations communicate mainly via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SnapChat, and other rapidly-evolving platforms. They share thoughts, pictures, and happenings in their lives with the world. Birthday and other special greetings are even sent by these methods.

My 85-year-old mother is still healthy and lives independently. I am supportive of her wish to continue to do so, but do not wish her to feel so alone in her small Munich, Germany apartment. One thing we have established is a weekly “Skype” session (an Internet based video conference call system that allows you to see and speak to those in other locations). Because multiple people can participate in a Skype session, my mother now enjoys weekly talks with my children, who do not live near her. Seeing all her grandchildren on one screen and talking to them is the highlight of her week.

She has even learned how to use Facetime, Whatsapp, Messenger, and Facebook which enable her to stay in touch with them more frequently. Facetime is a special way to talk via video through a WiFi connection anywhere in the world by using an Iphone device. Whatsapp, another messaging application, works between all devices (phone, computer, tablet) that the program is installed on. Emails and text messages are other ways to communicate with family and friends.

Learning “Netiquette”

With new technology comes a new sets of rules. My advice is that adults should learn and be sensitive to “netiquette” norms (Internet etiquette). My uncle, for instance, still hasn’t learned that writing all in capital letters on Facebook is considered shouting. Aging adults also need to be aware that sharing too much personal information on the Internet is risky. All ages, not just seniors, are at risk for scams. My advice is that if something sounds free, or too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true.

Electronic gaming

Recently, I signed up for Lumosity in order to play some of their fun brain training games on a daily basis. They advertise that you can “enjoy brain training created by scientists and game designers.” My opinion is exercising your brain is just as important as physical fitness training as people age. I tried some Wii Fit programs, too. Wii is a gaming device you connect to your television. With one controller that feels like a tennis racket, you can play tennis against the computer or someone else in your own living room. It’s not as strenuous as a real tennis game, but still results in a noticeable workout. Just watch your surroundings; don’t hit your head on the low ceiling, like I did once.

According to AARP, nearly 90 percent of seniors would like to remain in their own homes as they age. Using new technology to keep aging minds and bodies active and engaged may enable greater opportunities for independent living, or semi-assisted living for you or a loved one. In addition to health and safety applications, technology can also be fun!

If you have questions or want to share your own experiences, feel free to contact me at Klaus@dokklaus.com.

 

Klaus Fuechsel
About Klaus Fuechsel 4 Articles

Klaus Fuechsel owns the local award-winning computer repair store Dok Klaus. He and his team deal with all kinds of computer issues; data preservation is one of their top priorities. You may contact Dok Klaus via phone 540-428-2376 or visit his website.

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