From Alexa to VR: These tech tools can make aging in place easier – USA TODAY

When you think of tech early adopters, this Brooklyn resident isn’t who typically comes to mind. She’s 95 years old, can’t see or hear very well anymore, and grew up in a time when the hottest new gadgets around were toaster ovens and zippers.
Today? She’s not sure what she would do without her Amazon Echo smart speaker. 
“Alexa has been a miracle,” the spirited senior tells me over the phone. “I ask ‘what is the weather,’ and get an answer. Alexa turns on my lights, tells me what time it is, and when to take my pills.” 
She’s now one of the 16.7 million older Americans living alone at home with the help of her three daughters who live nearby, a part-time caregiver, and a few simple modern tech tools. (Editor’s note: We’re not using her name at her family’s request, to protect her from becoming prey to opportunistic scammers.)
Turns out, this simple digital dose of daily life might soon be just what the doctor orders for both older adults and the people who love them.
There’s a major elder-care tech evolution underway. With about 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 in America every day, seniors are expected to outnumber children within the next 15 years. So all those big tech companies cranking out shiny new gadgets? Many are thinking about shifting focus to seniors as the active-aging market is expected to triple to nearly $30 billion in just three years.
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For the more than 95% of people ages 65 and older who want to live out the remainder of their lives in the comfort of their own homes, the latest gadgets can help keep them safe, comfortable and independent. 
But there’s another huge part of the population to consider here, too: the sandwich generation. Now, 1 in every 8 Americans cares for an aging parent while raising a family of their own. For them, innovative tech tools can provide a watchful eye, constant connection and the comfort of knowing everything’s OK. 
New technology “provides the very basic things that my mom needs moment to moment,” says Dani, the 61-year-old daughter of our teched-out nonagenarian. “She doesn’t have to rely on me for every little thing, like to tell her what time it is or to take her medicine.” 
Dani said it took her about an hour to set up the new gadgets for her mom. She also wrote the word “Alexa” in Sharpie on large pieces of paper and put them around the house to remind Mom of the Echo’s “wake-up” word. “It’s these little things,” Dani explains, “it’s what makes her feel human, and that’s what she should have.” 
Here are some of the other new gadgets providing turnkey tech support for seniors and the people who love them. 
CarePredict’s Tempo Series 3 looks like a stylish smartwatch or fitness tracker. It’s tiny but powerful, packed with sensors that know when Grandma or Grandpa is sitting, walking, sleeping, eating or even brushing teeth. It can sense critical changes and alert caregivers to poor sleep quality or mobility problems that could increase the risk of a fall. 
For the past few years, the Tempo has been used mainly in nursing homes, pushing all of its data to staff who can spot problems before they arise. A built-in two-way microphone lets seniors contact help whenever they need it, and it even doubles as a door key, making life that much simpler. 
For the first time ever, CarePredict’s Tempo and sensors are available for people to buy and install at home, too. 
I gave an Ageless Innovation Joy For All Companion pup to my former mother-in-law who suffers from Alzheimer’s, and it has been her constant companion ever since. She absolutely loves it – and for good reason: These animatronic pups and cats feel real. They bark and meow, turn their head at the sound of your voice, respond to touch, and you even feel a heartbeat when you hug it. 
Studies show that a furry companion can help you maintain healthy blood pressure and combat feelings of loneliness and social isolation. These furry friends are a comfort when needed, and they’re perfect for pet lovers who simply can’t manage the day-to-day care of an animal. 
Every 11 seconds, a fall sends a senior to an emergency room, and for those who break a hip, 20% die within a year of the injury. It’s a fear that keeps many would-be active seniors from staying mobile. 
The Tango belt wants to make those jaw-dropping numbers a thing of the past with a belt that’s easy to wear, unobtrusive and loaded with sophisticated sensors that can detect a fall. It can even deploy personal airbags. The airbags automatically pop out in an instant, absorbing the impact and protecting fragile hips. After triggering the soft cushion, the belt sends out alerts to caregivers letting them know that a senior has taken a tumble and might need help.
You don’t have to be a senior to know how big of a pain it can be to remember to take medication. Pill organizers can help, up to a point, but can new tech truly save the day?
Black & Decker’s Pria personal medication assistant is a step in the right direction. This pint-sized machine lives on any countertop, and it’s as if Alexa and Facebook’s Portal had a baby. The killer feature here is the built-in “pill wheel” that dispenses meds and chimes reminders so no one misses any doses. Scheduling the dispenser is a cinch with the Pria app, but filling all the pill slots is still a bit of a chore. Pria sweetens the deal with a built-in webcam with two-way video calling for check-ins with loved ones. 
Virtual reality can take you just about anywhere in the blink of an eye. But let’s be real: VR is complicated for the average person, let alone someone who hasn’t even heard of it before. 
Rendever, a VR startup led by a pair of MIT grads, provides all-in-one virtual reality systems to senior living communities – and the results will make you cry. Slip a headset over a senior’s eyes, and thanks to Google Maps and 360-degree video, watch them get swept away on a virtual visit to their childhood home, stroll down an alley in Paris, or even attend a grandchild’s soccer game through a secure “family engagement portal.”
Jennifer Jolly is an Emmy Award-winning consumer tech columnist and host of USA TODAY’s digital video show TECHNOW. Email her at Follow her on Twitter: @JenniferJolly.


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