5 Terrific Mobile Apps for Seniors

Many people think of technology as the territory of the young, and that’s too bad. Technology can benefit older adults in countless and sometimes surprising ways. For example, Speaking Exchange pairs up students learning English with English-speaking seniors, giving students conversational practice and seniors the opportunity to reach young people and help them learn skills they’ll need for success.

mobile apps for seniors can open up a whole new world
Tablet apps can open up a new world of communication, education, and entertainment for seniors.

On the everyday level, apps for seniors abound that can make life more convenient, more fun, and safer. Though some of them must be purchased, many are free, and those that do cost money are almost always reasonably priced. Seniors may not be as enamored of their phones as their children and grandchildren, but according to a Pew Research Internet Project, older adults are adopting tablets more enthusiastically than younger adults. A tablet could be perfect for the older adult that you love, particularly if you install a handful of useful tablet apps first. Here are 5 apps for seniors that can brighten their lives in many ways.

5 Mobile Apps for Seniors

1. Skype
A UK study of people ages 60 to 95 were provided with broadband and selected tablet apps, one of which was Skype, which allows video chat. Upon learning to use it, the seniors were enthusiastic. One outdoorsman who could no longer camp due to health issues was able to virtually join and interact with a group of campers around their campfire, for example. Thomas Morton, project leader, said, “What can be surprising is just how important social connections are to cognitive and physical health. People who are socially isolated or who experience loneliness are more vulnerable to disease and decline.”

2. YouTube
YouTube is packed with entertainment including music, television shows, and documentaries, new and old. It is also full of tutorials and how-to videos on everything from exercising to using technology. In fact, there are channels specifically by and for mature adults. Additionally, YouTube has countless playlists for enjoying music of every conceivable genre. And new content is constantly being uploaded to YouTube, so there’s never a problem finding something entertaining.

3. Waze

mobile apps for seniors can help you find where to park
Anyone who is out and about a lot can benefit from apps that assist with parking.

Waze is a map and navigation app that crowdsources traffic condition information, and it now automatically remembers and saves where you park when you use it to get to your destination. This is tremendously helpful at large shopping malls, parking garages, and events, guiding the user right back to their car, which is especially convenient for those carrying shopping bags. And when you use Waze for parking, you help the app learn where to find parking and how much time to allow to park at that particular destination.

4. Kindle
For the senior who loves to read, the Kindle app enables them to contain an entire library of books in their tablet. And for seniors with multiple devices, the Kindle app syncs furthest page read, bookmarks, notes, and highlights across devices. Users can sample books before buying and read thousands of classics for free. It can also download eBooks carried by many local libraries. Plus, font size is adjustable, to reduce eye strain. Users can even subscribe to magazines and newspapers, or buy single issues.

5. Art Set
The regular edition of Art Set costs $1.99, and the Pro edition costs $6.99 for the iPad. Art Set allows users to draw and paint on a photo-realistic interface with tools that look like actual art tools, including virtual pens, pencils, pastels, and paints. It has pressure sensitivity so, for example, if you create an oil painting, you can get realistic texture effects. With pinch and zoom functionality, users can zoom in and add fine details, and blending tools offer nearly unlimited ways to mix and smudge color on the virtual canvas. The app is described by reviewers as intuitive and easy to learn.

Thinking of technology as only for young people is woefully short-sighted. Technology can be used by older adults to keep in touch with loved ones, remember complex medication schedules, increase social interaction, and enjoy cognitive stimuli and information that can greatly enrich quality of life. Apps for seniors can improve users’ sense of autonomy, provide entertainment and education, and allow far-away loved ones to interact face to face. The time you spend setting up your older loved one with a mobile device and apps can pay off beautifully in terms of your peace of mind and better quality of life for him or her.

The Next Best Medical Alert System

The next best medical alert systemIf you tuned into the Apple Live event yesterday you heard a lot about the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, as well as Apple’s much anticipated wearable technology called the Apple Watch (nope it’s not called the iWatch).  The iPhones continue on their spectacular run of innovation including getting thinner, faster, stronger, and packed with new features like Apple Pay (think iWallet) and integrated health apps.  As you were watching the presentation I bet you weren’t thinking about the next best medical alert system! Well for good reason we were, and here are some thoughts on the future of this growing marketplace.


The Future of The Medical Alert System

As someone that follows the medical alert system industry closely, I can’t help but think that we might be seeing the future of medical alert systems before our very eyes.  The first thing I thought about when I saw the Apple Watch was that this is the first big innovation in medical alert systems we’ve seen in a long, long time.  How you ask?  Consider this: The Apple Watch already has build in sensors to tell you temperature, heart rate and a variety of other health related information.  There are already built in health apps that track daily activity which will be useful for family members to track how often their loved one’s are getting around.

Apple Health App - The next best medical alert system

This is the first big innovation in medical alert systems we’ve seen in a long, long time.

The Apple Watch has an internal gyroscope and an accelerometer which could lend itself to any myriad of inactivity or fall detections too.  Built in messaging could serve as useful reminders notifying the user when it’s time to take their medications, and how they should take them (with food, or not).  The possibilities are endless.

Right now the Apple Watch solution isn’t optimal  for a variety of reasons.  It’s new, it’s complex, it’s tethered to an iPhone, it may not be waterproof yet, etc.  The biggest reason this technology won’t be replacing the traditional medical alert system is that there aren’t many medical alert system replacement apps that are ready for prime time on the Apple Watch.  Here’s one industry observer that’s betting on a new simple medical alert application to be integrated into the Apple Watch for seniors.  In short order this could become the next best medical alert system on the market.  I think that in 5 years you’ll see some very useful apps come to market to address health needs that we haven’t yet dreamed of.  Should be a fun ride!

Would You Like a Medical Alert Recommendation?

Medical Alert Buyers Guide


iPhone App Reviews: CareBeacon iPhone App

iPhone App Reviews: The CareBeacon Medical Alert

*UPDATE- As of July 2015, the CareBeacon app has been discontinued while the company evaluates the app for future use.

I recently tested the CareBeacon fall detection (and inactivity) app for iPhone.  The app functions like a mobile medical alert system and notifies loved ones of falls by utilizing the accelerometer  and GPS (global positioning systems) functions in the smart phone.  The app is free for the first 30 days and is available from $8.33 per month (if you sign up for the year) to $12.99 (on a month to month) after the initial trial.

The CareBeacon app is great for those who have an existing iPhone and who carry it with them at all times.  The app will work wherever the phone has a signal and is not confined to the home like many traditional personal emergency response systems.  The pre-determined friends and family will be notified if the user does not answer the “Are You Ok?” prompts after a period of inactivity or a fall is sensed.  The time to sense inactivity can be adjusted by the user, from one to 15 minutes.  If the phone senses a fall, it sends a text and/or voice messages with the users location.  The friends/family would then contact the user and emergency services if needed.

iPhone App Reviews | CareBeacon | Likes and Dislikes

What I liked:

  • Conceptually utilizing the mobile phone functionality for active adults (that just need a safety blanket) makes a great deal of sense
  • For those that carry their mobile phone all over the place, it’s always with you
  • Accelerometer should work as well as other mPERS (mobile personal emergency response system) or better, though phone’s location on the body could make a difference in sensitivity for the fall algorithm
  • Simple to use and simple to set up
  • Designate friends and family (to contact in case of emergency) as you wish
  • Price is right when comparing it to traditional or mobile medical alert system subscriptions

What I didn’t like:

  • You have to have an iPhone (no Android version as yet)
  • If you don’t have adequate service coverage (from Verizon, AT&T, Sprint) you don’t have a functioning app
  • Only calls friends and family no direct 911 calling (this isn’t so bad as long as someone answers)
  • 15 minute inactivity alarm started bugging me, CareBeacon may want to adjust this to allow for less frequent check-ins
  • Price is high IF you’re comparing it to other apps on the iPhone app store

how CareBeacon works

Backlighting On Tablets May Help Seniors Read

The Senior List has long touted the new e-readers and tablets as being increasingly “Senior Friendly”.  Now a small study out of Johannes Gutenberg University (Mainz,  Germany) has shown somebacklighting on tablets results that add some science to this notion.  It appears that backlighting from tablets may make it easier for seniors to read on these devices vs. traditional printed materials.  In the study, seniors (age 60-77) AND their younger counterparts (age 21-34) overwhelmingly preferred traditional books over the electronic versions.  But when the researchers looked at the scientific evidence (in this case combined EEG and eye-tracking measures) they noticed some contrary clues worth noting.

Among the older adults, digital measures “showed shorter mean fixation durations and lower EEG theta band voltage density – known to covary with memory encoding and retrieval – for the older adults when reading from a tablet computer in comparison to the other two devices.”  In layman’s terms… The back-lighting from the iPad allowed the older adults to read faster, and comprehend more.  This is quite interesting indeed, considering the built-in bias toward traditional printed materials.  More scientific data is probably warranted, but this certainly raises some eyebrows.

In the rapidly changing circumstances of our increasingly digital world, reading is also becoming an increasingly digital experience: electronic books (e-books) are now outselling print books in the United States and the United Kingdom.” Kretzschmar, Pleimling, Hosemann, Füssel, & Bornkessel-Schlesewsky, et al.

backlighting on tabletsCould tablets become mainstream devices or “must haves” for aging adults?  Some would argue (including us) this evolution/revolution is already happening.  Emarketer.com predicts that the highest growth rates among tablet users will come from users under 12 (huh?) and adults age 65+.  With an intuitive user interface (UI), video conferencing capabilities, multi-media at the fingertips, and email… Tablet growth and new applications (apps) will push even more tablets in the hands of aging adults.

BugMe Pro Giveaway

The BugMe Pro App for iPhoneThe Senior List is giving away the Pro version of BugMe!

The fine folks at Electric Pocket have provided The Senior List a number of Bugme Pro App coupons for you to use at iTunes.  If you’d like to download the Pro version of the BugMe! sticky-notes-app (for free), let us know on our Facebook page.  Just “like” The Senior List (if you haven’t already) and let us know you’d like a coupon for the BugMe! app at iTunes.  (Note: We only have the app coupons available for iOS/Apple products… Not android).

We’ll give them away on Friday, so make sure you check back to see if you’re a winner!  Thanks again to the developers at Electric Pocket (you guys rock!).

The Senior List is on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/TheSeniorList

– Tim “the tech man” Taylor