While 77 percent of older Americans want to age in place in their homes, life at home can sometimes be very isolating. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many older Americans were homebound because of illnesses or mobility issues.
However, new technology can drastically enhance life at home for people of all ages, especially senior citizens. The latest devices are not only easier to use than ever before, but they also can make each day more fun and more convenient. Technology is also making it possible for older people to live more independently and safely. This guide will introduce you to new technology -such as virtual reality, robotic assistants, and security systems – that can help senior citizens flourish at home.
Tech that increases independence and safety at home
Similarly, adjustable beds can reduce chronic pain and improve sleep quality. Stair lifts enable older adults to continue living in multi-story homes and reduce the fall risks when traveling from one story to another. Meanwhile, lift chairs empower seniors to get up a lot more effectively from a sitting position. Bidets, which are growing in popularity in the U.S., can even be installed in a toilet to aid with hygiene.
Alarm systems and fall detection devices
Living alone at any age can be worrisome, but there are unique risks for older adults. Whole-home alarm systems such as Ring Alarm and SimpliSafe can improve peace of mind for those living alone. They can also make it more feasible for seniors to age in place, as alarm systems can also notify family members if a door or window is open, or if activity is detected inside the home. The systems can incorporate medical alert/panic buttons, too.
Even without security systems, medical alert systems and fall detection devices can be extremely helpful. Smartwatches with fall detection appeal to many seniors who find traditional systems and buttons too cumbersome or patronizing.
Is professional monitoring necessary for security/medical alert systems?
Let loved ones track how active they are (no activity or much less activity could mean they need to be checked on).
Improve performance of a third-party fall detection device.
Enable loved ones to perform monitoring and caregiving tasks such as sending medication reminders, making shopping lists, and getting activity alerts.
Access 24/7 urgent response. With urgent response, seniors and family members can call first responders to help in a crisis (Alexa Together does not have 911 compatibility).
Amazon Astro is a robotic device that uses Alexa Together. It’s a household robot with a screen that can provide companionship and assistance with lots of tasks. For instance, it can follow people around and keep them entertained with TV shows, music, and video calls with friends and family. With optional accessories, it can even carry blood pressure monitors, snacks, medicines, and water bottles, and throw treats to pets. However, it’s not capable of going up and down stairs. A Ring Protect Pro subscription allows the robot to better investigate activity and patrol the house.
Users can also personalize their privacy settings on the Amazon Astro by enabling or disabling sensors, microphones, and cameras with the press of a button, and design off-limits zones using the app.
As of late January 2022, the Amazon Astro is available only by invitation. You can sign up on Amazon.com to request an invitation.
Smart trackers/item locator devices
It’s frustrating to misplace small items like keys, the TV remote control, and eyeglasses. Luckily, smart tracking devices such as the Apple AirTag and Tile sticker can help.
Apple AirTag for Apple users can be attached to or placed inside keys, purses, wallets, and whatever else users want to track. Even better, it is water-resistant. Users can get key rings and loops for easier attaching, and the tags are available individually or in groups of four ($29 for one, $99 for four). AirTags work by connecting with the Find My app or Precision Finding on the iPhone. They share the direction to head in to find the missing item (for example, 15 feet to your left). AirTagged devices can be placed into Lost Mode, which is especially helpful when items are misplaced away from home.
The Samsung Galaxy SmartTag functions similarly to the above but is compatible only with Samsung Galaxy phones.
The Tile sticker is another item locator device. It works with both Apple and Android, and is water-resistant.
Another third-party option is Chipolo. One major downside is that its community-finding features are less robust. If you lose something while you are out and about, it might not be located as quickly. However, that’s not really a concern for devices that are misplaced only at home. Chipolo works with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, and Siri, and functions along the same lines as the other three smart trackers mentioned above.
Smart shutoff/prevention devices and smart plugs
For more peace of mind, look into smart devices that automatically shut off your stove and running water. Products are available from Moen, Flowban, and iGuardStove, among others.
Some smart plugs or devices help prevent more disasters such as forgetting to lock the door, close the windows, or turn off the iron. With a smart plug, you could make a command to your voice virtual assistant along the lines of, “Alexa, set a sleep timer on the iron plug for 15 minutes.” It would turn off the iron in 15 minutes. Even better, you (or your loved ones) can set a routine for the plug to turn off after a preset period of time elapses. That way, you do not need to remember to say a smart assistant command.
Devices that help build social connections
For older adults who live alone or far from their families, loneliness can be a difficult reality. Isolation can also have an impact on mental health. It’s essential to keep in touch with other people, and technology can help people stay connected to their loved ones, no matter how far they live.
The Grandpad phone-tablet hybrid addresses two common senior issues: overly-complicated tech and a lack of internet. It offers simple, intuitive use of a smart device along with internet connectivity. The Grandpad offers:
Video and phone calls
Older adults or their family members can expand or limit the selection depending on their abilities and preferences. Grandpad subscriptions include 4G LTE data available nationwide, so there is no need for separate internet at home just to use the Grandpad.
Smartphones and cellphones
Flip phones and smartphones can engage seniors for hours, whether they play games, catch up with friends through phone calls, research family histories, or browse social media. Here are some more options for today’s cellphones:
Depending on your needs, choose plans that allow for only calls, calls and texts, or calls, texting, and data.
Phones can be simple or elaborate to meet various needs and wants. Choose a simple flip phone, Jitterbug Smart3 for seniors, or the latest Apple iPhone.
Today’s smartphones offer a wide selection of apps for communication, games, music, fitness, TV and movies, and more.
Robotic companion pets
For those who love animals but can’t have pets of their own, consider a robotic companion cat or dog. The animals are fun and easy to care for. They require absolutely no walking, feeding, grooming or expensive vet visits. However, they do respond to affection with purrs and barks, among other realistic actions. The pets can be especially helpful for seniors with dementia.
Award-winning Joy for All robo pets
Features of the cats
Features of the dogs
Three types, silver with white mitts, tuxedo, and orange tabby
Two types, golden and freckled
Responds to hugging, petting, and motion
Heartbeat like the real thing
Movements and sounds based on real cats
Soft, high-quality coat that encourages lots of petting
Can sit up or lay on lap
Nuzzles, rolls over for belly rubs
Responds to seniors’ voices
Realistic vibrapurr seniors can feel
Responds to hugging, petting, and motion with gentle barks, tail wags, panting, sighs, other responses
Soft, high-quality fur that encourages lots of petting
Built-in sensors and speakers
Sleeps when not being used
The Portal Go tablet focuses on companionship, interactivity, and communication, and has no subscription fees. Users can video chat, have story time with grandkids, watch movies and TV, listen to podcasts, and have fun with augmented reality (AR) effects such as space backgrounds and fairy tale outfits.
The built-in smart camera automatically pans and zooms so users automatically remain in the video frame, and the view widens when new people enter the room. Other advantages include built-in Alexa voice control, high-fidelity music, portability, and the ability to video call on Zoom, Messenger, or WhatsApp.
Tech that makes life easier and more convenient
Our favorite devices
Smart home speakers
Service apps (e.g food. delivery, housework, and transportation)
Many smart devices exist on the market today, and they’re great for remote caregiving. Some of the latest smart home features include doorbell cameras, refrigerators, locks, interior cameras, garage door openers, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, lighting, electrical outlets, pill/medication dispensers, TVs, coffee makers, toothbrushes, and weight scales.
Smart home speakers
Smart speakers such as Sonos One, Amazon Echo Dot, Apple Home Pod mini, and Google Nest Audio can make seniors’ lives much easier. Voice control enables users to call loved ones, set up medication reminders, check the news, get the weather, play games and music, and more.
Although they are luxurious, smart refrigerators can be extremely practical. Many have a home automation command center tablet on the outside. That’s handy for seniors who control more than a few smart home devices. Also useful are the internal cameras that show what’s inside the fridge without opening the door. Other features include:
Temperature customization by drawer or compartment
Food/food expiration date tracking and usage through barcodes/RFID systems or manual item entry
Notifications to use food before it expires
Recipe lookup and reading out loud while cooking
Capability to connect to other smart devices such as TV, microwave, dishwasher, speaker, and grocery lists that sync with smartphone lists (depends on the model)
Grocery stores, pharmacies, big-box chains, restaurants, pet shops, and other retailers offer apps that can make life a lot easier. For people who can no longer drive to the grocery store or walk through the aisles, many companies now offer pickup or delivery services on their website or mobile app. Often there is a fee for delivery or pickup, but the convenience may be well worth the fee for some.
Recurring, subscription-type orders are also possible, depending on the retailer. If customers need shampoo, medication, and toilet paper every month, they can set up automatic recurring orders so they never run out of these provisions.
Transportation: Try Uber, Lyft, or Care.com Caregiver
Senior care, household tasks, personal care, companionship, mobility assistance, specialized care, pet care: Try Care.com Caregiver
Errands and help around the house: Try TaskRabbit or Care.com Caregiver
The most fun tech devices to use at home
Workout equipment, fitness wearables
Virtual reality devices
Adventure keeps life interesting, but it’s not always possible to jump on a plane to a new location. Thanks to the power of virtual reality, seniors can golf, hang glide, attend live concerts, win multiplayer games, revisit their wedding location, make new friends, and even more, right from home.
The most popular VR device on the market today is the Oculus Quest 2. It features social experiences and hundreds of games, fitness opportunities, and live events. Many apps, such as VRChat, are free. Once you put on the headset, VRChat lets you chat with people all over the world and express yourself with silly virtual costumes. YouTube VR is another freebie and allows immersion into YouTube as a 360-degree world.
Quest 2 is a headset system. It stands alone – there is no need to plug anything into a computer or TV. You do need a smartphone app for setup, though. Pricing starts at $299, with most accessories and experiences costing extra. For instance, Eleven Table Tennis, Real VR Fishing, and Golf 5 eClub cost $19.99 each. The accessories include controllers, carrying cases, and elite straps.
Users can choose from solo or group experiences in three broad categories: gaming, fitness, and entertainment. The entertainment category dishes up such possibilities as binge-watching movies and TV with friends even if they’re physically across the country (and the viewing occurs on the equivalent of an 180-inch TV!). You can even watch NBA games from “front-row seats,” venture into space with astronauts, and explore the Star Wars universe.
There are a variety of games like classic arcade games, brain teaser puzzles, cooking simulations, mini-golf, boxing, escape rooms, first-person shooter games, apocalypse survival, and dancing.
Tech-savvy seniors may want to see if the Oculus Quest 2 virtual reality system works for them. Those with little tech experience (or who get overwhelmed easily) may prefer MyndVR.
Besides Facebook’s Oculus VR, there are a few competitors on the market geared specifically toward older adults. MyndVR is a system for seniors at home and in senior living communities. The experiences on offer include tripping to Paris, skydiving, and watching the first act of the Lion King on Broadway.
The system currently comes with a tablet and headset – and incredibly easy navigation. New content in adventure, travel, nature, education, pets, music, meditation, and other categories is released every month. At $395, the system’s cost is comparable to the price tag of the higher-end Oculus Quest 2 ($399). Depending on the offers available when you get MyndVR, you may need to pay $19.95 a month for content subscriptions.
Rendever is another virtual reality system focused on senior living, although it is not targeted toward individuals at home. Rather, it’s used by senior communities. The good news: You can apply for an equipment loan to try it at home. The Rendever Experience Grant has brought VR to folks with dementia, stroke, paralysis, and other conditions for 30 to 90 days at a time.
Bottom line: MyndVR offers senior-friendly virtual reality fun. It could work well for folks who feel overwhelmed by the Oculus Quest 2.
Smart workout equipment and fitness wearables
Whether people are new to fitness or seasoned athletes, smart workouts could add more variety to their fitness routines. Smart workout equipment offers touchscreens with stunning scenery from around the world, games, feedback on workout sessions, high-quality trainers, and guided and independent workouts. There are smart versions of many popular workout machines like stationary bikes, treadmills, freestanding boxing bags, rowing machines, ellipticals, and adaptive weights.
The NordicTrack RW900 Rowing Machine is one example. It boasts a 22-inch bright HD touchscreen and a fantastic library of workouts. Your iFit library rowing options span the globe and include the Thames in England and the Kafue in Zambia. The scenery makes the workouts go by quickly, and you get the rush of traveling somewhere else. Trainers and Olympic athletes are available to sharpen your skills, and the machine is foldable to save space.
As for fitness wearables, smartwatches appeal to folks of all ages and serve many purposes. Some can track fitness progress and physical movements throughout the day, heart rate, blood oxygen levels, and sleep patterns. The Fitbit Versa 2 has a large display which can be great for those with poor vision, and users can exercise to their Spotify playlist. The tech is pretty easy for anyone to set up and use but requires a monthly fee of $9.99.
If health tracking is a top priority, the Fitbit Sensed Advanced offers more than the Fitbit Versa 2. Fitbit Sensed Advanced can even send information about your heart rhythm to your doctor, potentially catching problems early. It helps with fitness tracking, stress management, and other tasks.
Other senior-friendly, health-oriented smartwatches include the Garmin Venu, YAMAY Smartwatch, Fitbit Versa 3, Apple Watch SE, HandFree Health Smartwatch, Apple Watch Series 3, and Samsung Galaxy Watch Active 2.
Paper books can be difficult for older adults due to limited font sizes. Plus, it’s not always easy to get to the library. E-readers address these problems and many more. They’ve transformed reading and accessibility for seniors.
Fonts, sizes, brightness, and other text settings can be customized to limit eye strain.
Some models will even read text out loud for those who cannot see or read.
Often, library books are plentiful and easy to access for free.
Battery life is typically long, with batteries often lasting a few weeks on one charge.
To save some money, get a certified refurbished e-reader instead of one that’s brand new.
Users typically need WiFi connections to download books but don’t need them for reading.
Popular e-reader models
Nook GlowLight 4
Nook GlowLight Plus
Kobo Clara HD
Popular e-reader models include the budget-friendly Kindle Paperwhite and the more luxurious Kindle Oasis. The Oasis features a bigger screen, one-handed reading, page-turn buttons, and lighting that automatically changes based on the conditions. The Oasis starts about $250 and the Paperwhite starts at $140. A refurbished Paperwhite costs about $109, while a refurbished Oasis runs about $209.
Then there’s the Nook, which comes in multiple versions. The GlowLight Plus for $199.99 has a larger screen. The Nook GlowLight 4, at $149.99, is smaller yet still comfortable for many seniors to use.
Kobo also makes quality e-readers. The Kobo Clara HD costs $119.99, while the Kobo Forma runs $209.99. The Kobo Sage offers stylus compatibility and other features at $259.99.
Improving life at home for aging adults
Elder tech is wide-ranging from the simple to the complex and has the potential to immensely improve life at home for seniors. For instance, virtual reality appeals to many adults who can have adventures at home. Meanwhile, cellphones, companion pets, and other tech alleviate loneliness. Walk-in tubs, adjustable beds, and smart home security devices keep seniors independent for longer.