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How tech can improve everyday life for the elderly

Andrew Tarantola
Senior Editor

Thanks to steady advances in modern medicine, humans are living longer than ever, but what's the point of passing that centennial mark if you can't enjoy your platinum years? Just because your body doesn't work as well as it did when you were 20 and practically indestructible, it doesn't mean you can't continue to enjoy a full and enriching retirement -- you just need a little help from technology.

Mobility

exercise mobility

You're never too old to get back into shape. Exercise offers folks of all ages a slew of physical, emotional and mental health benefits. Now, that doesn't mean you need to be hitting the gym like Schwarzenegger (though if you can, more power to you). Even light to moderate exertion can be beneficial as long as you do it regularly -- preferably daily, according to the CDC.

While walking and gardening are the most popular forms of exercise for people over 65, they're far from the only options. Practicing yoga can help improve balance, coordination, muscle tone and stamina while requiring little more than some free floor space. This half-inch thick sweat-resistant yoga mat ($16) from Amazon offers comfort and stability, lessening the chances of a slip and fall while transitioning into Virabhadrasana II. Plus it's durable enough to easily wash with soap and water after use. If stability is an issue, be sure to pick up a foam support block or two as well ($11). These give you something to lean on if you're not flexible enough to reach the ground during a pose. Also be sure to keep a chair nearby for added support and to enable you to perform variant poses, collectively known as Chair Yoga, designed specifically to reduce strain on your joints.

Once you've got your equipment squared away, it's time to find a yogi. If you're just starting out or don't feel comfortable trying the practice out on your own, don't worry, there are a bunch of resources for you both on and offline. For folks interested in taking a group class, check with your local YM/WCA, JCC, senior center or yoga studio. If, on the other hand, you're hoping to restart or expand your practice, YouTube offers a number of instructional videos and routines. Yoga With Adriene, The Mat Project and DoYogaWithMe are all widely followed YouTube accounts that offer lessons geared specifically for older adults.

Perhaps getting sweaty in a hot room with a bunch of strangers doesn't sound all that great. But you know where you can't sweat? In the pool. Aquacise classes offer strong cardio benefits without the joint stress that land-based aerobics classes offer. Plus you get to play with pool noodles. Most facilities will have loaner equipment on hand, but if borrowing gear makes your skin crawl, you can pick up everything you need in the form of the Aquastrength Aquatic Fitness Ultimate Bundle ($200) from Amazon and just tote it to the pool and back.

Buy Yoga Mat on Amazon - $16

Buy Yoga Blocks on Amazon - $11

Buy Aquastrength bundle on Amazon - $200

excercise gear

For those not interested in group classes, that's fine too. You've earned the right to be curmudgeonly. But that doesn't give you a pass to be a couch potato. If you're going to sit, you might as well get some exercise from it by using a chair gym ($150). Essentially a folding chair with integrated resistance bands that offers more than 50 exercises all of which can be performed from a seated position. Or, if you don't want to have to assemble a whole thing, pick up a couple of light resistance bands ($10+) and a set of instructional DVDs ($30). So long as you have a sturdy chair on hand, you can get your reps in.

Ergometers, better known as rowing machines, provide an unrivaled full-body cardio workout. The problem is, they tend to be quite pricey and if your form is wrong, you can easily exacerbate existing back and joint problems. Stationary bikes, on the other hand, won't work your upper body, but you can still get a solid cardio workout one like this recumbent exercise bike from Marcy ($155). It has a low, step-through design so you're not throwing out your hips trying to get onto the saddle. The recumbent position further reduces strain on your lower back and joints. And at $155, you won't have to dip into the grandkids' holiday presents fund to pay for it. Heck, you can even craft your own DIY Peloton (ask your kids what that is) by combining the recumbent bike with an iPhone or iPad and this free iOS app.

Then again, where's the fun in spending your senior years hanging around the house when there's still so much to get out and see? If you're still mobile enough to not need a cane or walker but would feel more confident having a walking stick in hand, check out the Activator poles from Urban Poling ($110). Designed by an occupational therapist, these walking aids "may be beneficial for post/hip knee surgery, injuries, Parkinson's, stroke, MS, chronic pain, cancer rehab, spinal conditions and older adults," according to the product website.

Buy Resistance Bands on Amazon - $10+

Buy Chair Gym on Amazon - $150

Buy Exercise DVD on Amazon - $30

Buy Recumbent Bike on Amazon - $155

Buy Activator Poles - $110

Apple Watch Series 5

Brett Putman

If that's not enough reassurance, you might consider investing in an Apple Watch Series 5 ($384). While expensive, this wrist-worn gadget not only tells the time but streams music, takes and makes calls, too. It also is packed with health-related features, including the world's first watch-based ECG test, integration with Apple Health and a panic button that enables users to contact family members and emergency services with just a few taps.

Remaining mobile goes a long way toward retaining your sense of independence, and nothing puts the kibosh on that quite like not being able to get out of bed or out of a car on your own. That's where the Freedom Grip bed rail ($56) comes in. This super simple device slides between the mattress and box spring to provide a steady way to get into or out of bed. Similarly, the Handybar ($25) fits into a car or truck's door latch to give unsteady riders a non-slip grip when entering and exiting the vehicle. What's more, it includes an integrated window breaker and seatbelt cutter in case of an emergency.

Buy Watch Series 5 on Amazon - $384

Buy Freedom Grip on Amazon - $56

Buy HandyBar on Amazon - $29

Vision

The best tech for the elderly

While regular exercise can help seniors maintain mobility, you might think there's not much to be done once your eyesight and hearing start to go. But that isn't the case. A solution could be as simple as installing a magnifying floor lamp like the Light It! from Fulcrum ($68). It offers a 6x magnification bifocal lens with a five-inch viewing area as well as 12 high-intensity LED lights.

Then there are the wearables. Behold the MyEye 2 ($4,250) and MyReader 2 ($3,250) from Orcam. These visual assistance devices clip onto a pair of glasses, where their integrated cameras look at whatever you're looking at. With the help of their computer vision systems, these gadgets can read printed text to you -- whether that's the morning newspaper, a restaurant menu or the label on a can of soup at the supermarket. It can also learn and recognize the faces of the people you interact with most, so even if your memory is getting fuzzy, you'll never be at a loss for the name of that nice staffer at the senior center.

Microsoft's free Seeing AI app offers people in the low-vision community much of the same functionality, just without the external camera. This iOS app can recognize faces and emotions, describe scenes, read both printed and handwritten text aloud, even scan barcodes to identify products and read currency denominations so you don't overpay at the checkout.

Buy Light it! by Fulcrum on Amazon - $67

Buy Orcam MyReader 2 - $3,250

Buy Orcam MyEy 2 - $4,250

Download Seeing AI for iOS - Free

The best tech for the elderly

And for folks who own an Amazon Echo Show, the company has recently debuted a new feature called Show and Tell. Simply hold a grocery item in front of the Echo's camera and say "Alexa, what am I holding?" The device's computer vision system will then figure out what's in your hand and tell you what it is. Amazon's Echo Show 8 retails for $130 on Amazon. The company's Ring doorbell camera ($100) could also prove useful for seniors, showing them who's at the front door without them having to hustle there in person and risk falling. It handily serves as an electronic gatekeeper, too, denying suspicious types the opportunity to strong-arm the elderly into scam deals.

Buy Echo Show 8 on Amazon - $130

Buy Ring Video Doorbell on Amazon - $100

Hearing

Elderly tech

Tired eyes aren't the only organs that could stand some electronic enhancement. Hearing aid technology has made some impressive advances in recent years, as well. For example, in 2018, Bose earned the FDA's first approval for an over-the-counter hearing aid that can be programmed and adjusted by the user, rather than a healthcare provider. Bose's Hearphones ($500) have active noise cancellation, making it easier to focus on a conversation. If you'd prefer a hearing aid that doesn't resemble a yoke, or are simply concerned about the stigma surrounding wearing a hearing aid, take a gander at the tiny Eargo Neo ($2,750). This teensy electric ear is practically invisible when worn, but you'll definitely notice the hit to your pocketbook.

Buy Bose Hearphones - $500

Buy Eargo Neo on Amazon - $2,570

The best tech for the elderly

Conversely, if you don't mind a hearing aid sitting outside your ear canal, Livio now has a line of AI-enhanced devices with Amazon Alexa integration, fall detection, and a virtual assistant named Thrive. The price of these aids varies depending on the model and features you choose. Similarly, Apple and Cochlear recently joined forces to develop an iOS-specific hearing aid, the Nucleus 7 Sound Processor. Claimed to be the smallest and lightest external sound processor on the market, the Nucleus 7 pairs with an iPhone via Bluetooth, making it easy to use a phone to control the device's settings.

ENGADGET'S GUIDE TO FITNESS AND HEALTH