Whether it’s detecting falls in the home, monitoring heart rates or enabling a virtual reality hike through Macchu Pichhu, new devices that use VR, robotics and other technologies are blowing up the market. From early stage start-ups to behemoths like Amazon, companies around the world are creating tools that help the elderly live longer, healthier lives.
This makes life easier for caregivers. Cloud-enabled detection watches, for example, give you piece of mind in knowing you’ll be alerted immediately if your loved one has an accident. You probably remember the “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” Life Alert commercials of the past decade.* VitalTech, featured in our list below, brought the Life Alert into the twenty-first century. The smart watch concept was introduced in 2016 after board member Dan Flaherty noticed that residents of a senior-care nonprofit he financially supports were not wearing their pendants that monitor for falls. “The pendants embarrassed them,” said Ernie Ianace, one of the company’s co-founders. So the company set to work on a smart watch that would be easier for seniors to use, while monitoring for falls in an unobtrusive way, and VitalBand was born.
(*Note that despite the cheesiness of the infomercials, Life Alert has saved over 500,000 lives since 2008. Certainly nothing to balk at!)
If the thought of researching what’s new in tech gives you anxiety, don’t worry! I’ve read through countless articles, lists and reviews to give you a head start. And because half the battle is figuring out what you and your loved one may actually need, I’ve broken the list down by what the technology is intended to solve for. From safety-oriented sensors to solutions designed to combat loneliness (such as ElliQ, “a sidekick for happier aging”), here are some amazing options to get you started.
No matter what devices you choose, there are a few best practices for smart-home success from AARP.
1. Make sure your home internet connection is a high-speed wireless network to power the various devices.
2. If you're buying a new gadget in store, ask the associate any questions you have about functionality before you bring it home. If data collection is a concern, get familiar with how to adjust your device's privacy settings.
3. Think about how your devices are compatible with each other and how you’ll connect them all — through a smart speaker with voice commands, a separate smart home “hub” device, or apps on your smartphone.
Now let’s look at the tech. (Note: Please reference the ComfortKeepers.com CES 2019 list of favorite tech for aging in place and in-home senior care to learn more.)
Smart Home Devices
Amazon Alexa Care Hub: Launched in November 2020, this product is designed to help people care for aging relatives from a distance. Family members can personalize alerts, check in with relatives and call for help with simple commands. The Care Hub is a free service that requires two linked Amazon accounts but only a single Echo smart speaker or display.
Amazon frames Care Hub as a practical solution for caregiving from a distance while respecting the privacy and autonomy of those receiving care.
Google Home is the daily assistant that can control devices around the house, make calls, provide entertainment, and answer over 100 million unique questions. You can link it to the TV, radio, thermostat and more by installing a compatible device and activating connections on your phone’s Home app. This virtual helper responds to voice commands, which means that someone with limited vision or reduced finger dexterity can easily use it.
Walabot HOME helps seniors who want to age in place while maintaining privacy in their home. Unlike cameras or other video devices, Vayyar’s sensors never collect any visual data. Users can place their Walabot HOME in any location around their homes, including the bathroom or bedroom, to help with fall detection and health monitoring.
The device connects seniors with their caregivers through mobile alerts and two-way calling via the product’s free app whenever needed.
ElliQ, the Active Aging companion is a unique voice assistant that is designed specifically for seniors who are living at home. ElliQ has a light-up head that nods as the robot talks, along with a detachable tablet screen and camera that can be used to make video calls to family and friends.
ElliQ can be asked to play music, read messages, set reminders, play games, share photos, and other tasks that can bring a daily dose of joy to seniors in their homes. She can also suggest personalized activities throughout the day to help seniors stay healthy and active.
Joy for All created a series of robotic pets that were created with the intention of fostering meaningful connections through play. The cats and pups have sensors that allow them to interact with a human companion as they would with a live pet. The cat responds to touch, rolls over and utters 32 different types of purring sounds. The pup’s heartbeat slows down if a hand is placed on its back.
Vitalband is water-resistant, sweat-proof smart watch that charges right on the wrist for 24/7 safety. If a fall is detected, an alert goes immediately to a certified call center ready to dispatch emergency services; if the user chooses not to have emergency response services, the fall alert is sent to up to five preconfigured family members and caregivers through text or email.
Through its VitalCare app, family members can view their loved one’s streaming vitals, historical readings, manage fall alerts, edit profile information and view nutritional information.
Sleep, Mobility & Transportation
The right mattress is important because as we age, it can become harder for us to get a good night’s sleep. Many of us experience greater trouble falling asleep, we may sleep more lightly, or we may wake more frequently. All of these sleep issues can lead to daytime fatigue, irritability, and mood and memory problems. Read more on the Amerisleep blog here.
Steadiwear makes a glove that suppresses tremors and helps seniors to hold things—like coffee cups—steadily. The Steadi-One glove is designed to intelligently stabilize the wrist joint in Essential Tremor and Parkinson's disease, allowing patients to go about their daily activities with ease.
GoGoGrandparent partners with ride-sharing platforms Uber and Lyft to offer monitored rides for the elderly; the services enables members to set up rides without a smartphone, with rides monitored by 24/7 operators and alerts for emergency contacts.
(See our Transportation post for a more comprehensive list of options.)
Rendever is overcoming social isolation through the power of virtual reality and shared experiences. Residents simply put on a headset and they’re immediately transported into an immersive experience. Travel to all corners of the world and explore a variety of different content. The experience is incredibly powerful, particularly among seniors experiencing cognitive decline, impaired vision or mobility restrictions. Rendever’s resident engagement platform has been used by hundreds of staff members and provided more than 650,000+ experiences to thousands of residents in assisted living communities. While currently only available via assisted living communities, the trend is expected to extend to individuals families in the coming years. Keep an eye out for future opportunities in this space.
If you need help learning the ins and outs of technology, don’t hesitate to call a customer support line or ask a friend, family member or neighbor for help. You best bet is likely to ask a young person—teens and college-aged kids are typically in the know! Whatever you do, don’t let fear of tech hold you back from making some potentially great improvements in the life of your loved one. Start researching and test a few things out. You won’t regret it.