Tech helps overcome challenges caused by aging
The lifelike therapy cat can purr, meow and respond if petted. If ignored, it will make a bid for attention.
“It's a non-pharmaceutical way of calming people,” said Meg Busteed, family outreach coordinator for the Alzheimer's Association in Oklahoma City. “There's no litter box, no food and just one adoption fee.”
“Joy for All” companion pets by Hasbro are among the senior-friendly products that are flooding the market, often made possible by technological advances.
Savvy Senior columnist Jim Miller calls them “Great Gadgets for Easier Aging” in a series of workshops he is presenting this summer in conjunction with Norman Regional Health System.
At Village on the Park retirement community, he demonstrated 25 of the top-selling products designed to help seniors who have challenges with hearing, seeing, driving, mobility and remembering things.
“Seniors who remain independent and enjoy what they are doing stay healthier longer,” said Paula Price, vice president of strategy and growth for Norman Regional.
Busteed said assistive devices help caregivers, as well as patients. Portable power seats, for example, help people rise from a sitting position rather than being lifted by a caregiver.
“My mom was the caregiver for my stepfather,” Busteed said. “He was a big guy. That power seat would have been fantastic.”
Miller said seniors have heard of some products because they are heavily marketed but want to know if they really work. One example is the HurryCane.
The HurryCane has been the top-seller since 2012, he said. The three-point base allows the cane to stand independently so users can unlock doors or do other things with their hands. It's adjustable in height, and Miller said he considers it a good buy at $40.
“I love the HurryCane,” said Ann Trumbly Barker, who attended the workshop at Village on the Park. “There's a lot of things here I might want to get, but I'm retired, and I don't get raises.”
The Jitterbug flip phone sells for $100, and the Jitterbug Smart costs $150, Miller said. Monthly service plans range from $15 to $75. They are simple to use and come with such features as magnifiers, amplified sound and an urgent response button. The phone is heavily advertised, but people like it, Miller said, and the Smart is the top-selling smartphone designed specifically for seniors.
Also available is a telephone that displays photos of the people seniors call most often, and they can select that button rather than dial a number, Busteed said.
People who need to relax often respond to a weighted blanket, and $25 “gadget boards” with zippers, clips and fasteners often calm dementia patients, she said.
The Alzheimer's Association is partnered with AbleTech, a federally funded assistive technology program based on the Oklahoma State University campus.
The therapy cat costs $100, Busteed said, which is a reasonable price if it helps an Alzheimer's patient to relax, but a wasted purchase if it doesn't. That's why families can borrow such products for six weeks to find out if they are a good fit.
If the family decides to buy a device, the Alzheimer's Association can help with grants and loans for the most expensive items, Busteed said, regardless of income level. There's also a lending program for patients and caregivers who need items for only a short time, such as a walker after surgery.
Linda Cotton, of Edmond, is a genealogist who is amazed by how much research she can do online. But she also has moments when she is “intimidated” by technology.
That's why she signed up for computer and smartphone classes through the Metro Tech “Seniors on the Move” program. Tuition is $15, which she joked that she could afford without risking her children's inheritance.
Cotton said she likes the computer class because “the teacher is not a young person, and she is not expecting you to get it all on the first day.”
Seniors also can benefit by using devices made for the general population, said Meredith Woodbridge, communications coordinator for the Alzheimer's Association, which does not charge for any of its support or training services for patients and caregivers.
One of their clients who can no longer concentrate well enough to read a book or search the internet enjoys music in his home and sets alarms by talking to his smart speaker, she said.
Miller said the Bay Alarm Medical personal emergency response system earns high marks with consumers, and it's one of the least expensive at $20 to $40 a month. The lightweight “help” button is waterproof, as most senior falls happen in the bathroom.
Charlotte Gales, of Edmond, said her daughter ordered a help button for her late husband after he began having balance problems.
“I came home from church one day, and he had fallen outside,” she said. “He was wearing it around his neck, and it called for help for him. I was glad he had it.”