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Seniors are living in a technological golden age, with an array of devices and apps that can not only keep older people active and safe but also help them maintain independence long into retirement.

To stay tech-savvy, retirees should focus on their goal, whether it’s fitness, learning new skills, social interactions, or something else, says Tom Kamber, executive director Older Adults Technology Services from AARP, which creates technology programs for seniors.

If a retiree wants to own only one device, Kamber recommends using a simple, portable device with a large screen that allows typing such as a tablet or Chromebook with a keypad. Make sure emergency contacts can be found quickly on the device in time of crisis. “If you end up in the hospital, what devices will you have by your side? That’s going to be your lifeline,” he says.


Wearable devices make it easier to stay active at any age, and the Apple Watch dominates the sector with its numerous built-in health-related functions. Its senior-focused functions include a fall detector and an emergency feature that calls 9-1-1. Alternatives to the Apple Watch include Samsung, Garmin, and Fitbit.

Many of these watches have workout programs that can be done independently or with groups. Group activities can make otherwise sedentary people more active, says Steve Ewell, executive director of the Consumer Technology Association Foundation, especially if there’s a gamification or competitive aspect to the program.

Additionally, seniors who are reluctant to wear other medical-alert devices may be more likely to wear an attractive smartwatch. “People want the same device that they see their friends and family members and others wearing,” Ewell says.

Wearables can help caregivers or family members keep a remote eye on the wearer if the user is willing to share those statistics. For example, if a retiree normally takes 8,000 or 10,000 steps a day, but one day it shows only 1,000 steps, that anomaly may prompt a caregiver to check in.

“It could be that they didn’t charge the watch. Or it could be that they fell or had some other issue,” Ewell says.

Technology still lags behind in one common wearable for seniors: hearing aids. The best hearing aids are expensive and aren’t covered by Medicare, and many cheap ones perform poorly, and all require a prescription. Plus, many seniors don’t want to wear them because they don’t want to look old. A proposed rule by the Food and Drug Administration to allow people to buy hearing aids without a prescription could encourage more companies to explore this market.

Home Automation

Ewell says smart speakers with voice-assistance technology, such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, or Apple’s Siri, may have the greatest impact for seniors especially if they are synced to other products such as smart lighting, smart thermostats, and smart doorbells. The CTA Foundation’s research shows most seniors find smart speakers easy to use because of the voice commands.

He suggests owning a speaker with a video monitor, such as Amazon’s Echo Show. When connected to a video doorbell, seniors can see on the screen who’s there and communicate without needing to open the door. Users can also upload a phone’s contact list, enabling the device to call loved ones by voice command. The visual aspect can cut down on the loneliness and isolation that seniors sometimes feel in a way that audio-only phone calls and emails might not.

“It doesn’t replace being in person,” Ewell says, but “having those screens built into those devices really helps address some of the challenges around isolation.”

Kamber says it’s a good idea to pair technological efficiencies with their analog predecessors in case of emergency, say because of a tech glitch or power outage. What’s also important is to make sure a family member or neighbor knows how to work the system.

For people who might be concerned about privacy, Kamber says it is important to use best practices when using technology, such as using strong passwords, running software updates and buying well-known name brands. Taking those steps will help reduce chances of hacking, and there are ways to limit what information is shared with companies.

“For the majority of users, the benefits of adopting smart home devices outweigh the security challenges once these precautions are taken,” he says.

Retiree-Focused Apps

Amy Fuchs, program coordinator at Bridging Apps, says there are a number of smartphone apps geared to seniors that are free or low cost. Bridging Apps, a program of Easter Seals Greater Houston, on its website reviews a number of apps and compiles them into categories, including: adults and seniors, music, trackers, wellness and other applications.

Among the most popular apps for seniors are medication trackers, and one the organization recommends is Medisafe. Users take a photo of the pill and create a virtual medicine cabinet. The app also tracks medication use, sends out reminders and can share information with doctors and caregivers.

Fuchs says people with dementia or who are beginning to have memory loss may benefit from reminiscence therapy, as seeing pictures from their past or popular past objects can cue memories. My House of Memories is designed for people with dementia and their caregivers. It allows users to browse objects and upload photos to encourage sharing and discussion. A similar app, Memory Lane, turns memories into quizzes for seniors.For relaxation and stress relief, she also recommends mindfulness apps such as Calm and Plum Village, which have guided meditations.

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