Tech Products Tackle Problems That Come with Age

For entertainment purposes, watch SNL spoof an Alexa for the elderly. 
For entertainment purposes, watch SNL spoof an Alexa for the elderly. 

More and more innovative companies are waking up to the fact that there is life beyond age 55. And where there’s life there’s sure to be tech. What the aging population lacks in adeptness, they make up for with appreciativeness. Get it right and you’ll never find a more grateful audience. I get to test a lot of products. Here’s a list I can guarantee will get a senior’s stamp of approval.

TV Watching Improved

Any intergenerational family gathering knows that the TV volume is always turned up loud enough for the person with the worst hearing in the room. That means the rest of the family is being blasted, usually with accompanying distortion. Zvox AV200 AccuVoice is an easy to install soundbar that replaces your TV’s speakers and makes the voices emanating from your TV sound more clear and localized. AccuVoice uses a hearing aid type technology that isolates voice frequencies, lifting them out of background noise. The speaker bar comes with a small, uncomplicated remote control that acts as your volume control. Thankfully, I found my husband finally turned down the volume but could still hear the TV perfectly. The only drawback? Music from the TV did not sound any better, possibly worse, though the company suggests using Surround Sound mode for music listening. ($249)

Personalizing Alexa for an Aging Person

Amazon Alexa (I like the Echo for it’s size and fidelity) may be the perfect product for an aging audience that would rather converse with their machine than sit in front of a screen. Showing an older person basic things like asking for the weather or news and listening to music are learned quickly. But to make Alexa super useful you'll want to install some “experiences” -- Amazon’s name for useful apps. To learn about all the useful (and not so) things that Alexa can do visit either PC Magazine’s or CNet’s list. They both provide you with step-by-step instructions on how to ask for stock quotes, ask Alexa to call a friend in case of a fall or accident with Ask My Buddy, play games like Jeopardy, or get a “take your meds” reminder. My advice? If you’re giving anyone over 50+ an Amazon Alexa or Echo give them a cheat sheet on cool things they’ll enjoy doing. ($179)

Helping with Hearing Older folks have already suffered the repercussions of listening to loud rock and roll. And, it’s unlikely that want to blast music so loud that they shut out all noise of the outside world. This wisdom of age is best captured in Nueheara’s IQbuds. These are wireless earbuds that you control with an app to raise or lower the volumes of both music and ambient outside noise. They can even change the volume level of each ear independently -- great for anyone with hearing loss in an ear. For older folks, what separates IQbuds from other earbuds is that they have multiple microphones that let a user adjust sound and location. So, in a crowded restaurant, you may actually be able to hear the person who’s speaking. (Now if only it could read those menus in a darkened restaurant, too). ($299)

Home Security

Using a home monitoring system is a less than perfect science for an aging population. You’ve got to be able to do a little setup with pairing Bluetooth devices, and there are bound to be some false alerts.

If you’re interested in monitoring the home for safety, then Canary is my favorite as a security system. It’s a system of cameras and sensors that monitor video as well as other indicators in a home, like whether you’ve gone out, the temperature and humidity. You can check in remotely and see how the home and the folks in it are doing. It’s also one of the few that come with a membership that can offer you a discount on your home insurance just for using the product. And, it’ll dial emergency numbers, including police, in case of an emergency. (Pricing starts at $349 for the starter kit.) For a good look at the competitors, visit Home Alarm.

Personal Emergency Tracking

Monitoring the people who live in the home is more controversial than monitoring a home. Lively Mobile is an interesting product/service because it’s a personal emergency device and tracker with a GPS and cellular built in. Wear it as a pendant, bracelet or clip on, and whenever there’s an issue (there’s even a fall detection monitor) you can immediately contact a 24 hour service that knows your location and your medical background.

The Lively company declared bankruptcy in 2015 and its assets were purchased by GreatCall. According to GreatCall, the Lively product does not use the Lively technology (just its name) but is an evolution of the company’s Splash device. For a product that costs under $40 plus a monthly service plan that begins at $19.99 a month, Lively Mobile offers an easy to use, peace of mind solution.

Photo Sharing

As for sharing memories and staying engaged in family life, while photos are no replacement for being there, they can sure help. Thanks to a new generation of cloud based, wireless, digital photo frames it’s possible to share photos without complicated wires or USB transfers.

I used the Nixplay Iris. Developed by a family living in Hong Kong that wanted to share their photos with far flung grandparents, the NixPlay gets a lot of things right. Most important, you can snap photos with your mobile phone and then use the NixPlay app to caption them and send them wirelessly to friends and family. (You can load up to 10 photos at a time.) Photos can come from your PC, smartphone, or different social apps like Dropbox, Flckr and Instagram. The photos are stored securely in the NixPlay cloud and delivered to friends’ and families’ devices.

A few nice touches? The metal finished design looks ever so much better than the first generation of plastic photo frames. A special cord acts as a stand to turn it into a landscape or portrait frame. A motion sensor detects when you walk into the room and turns the display on. And a smart dimmer adjusts the brightness of the photo to the room’s lighting. Best of all, the user can control who sees what photos from your NixPlay Web App. ($200)

For some other cutting edge gadgets and services to help aging adults, you might want to look at the winners of this year’s AARP Innovation Awards. I served as a judge for these awards, and the products will give you newfound hope that tech can help us age well.

Robin Raskin is founder of Living in Digital Times (LIDT), a team of technophiles who bring together top experts and the latest innovations that intersect lifestyle and technology. LIDT produces conferences and expos at CES and throughout the year focusing on how technology enhances every aspect of our lives through the eyes of today’s digital consumer.

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