Hearing loops -- the positive change to people's lives -- and the inertia of public institutions to provide them.
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Consider technologies designed for all, including older adults
Summarizing the Pew Research reports to expose boomer/senior tech adoption trends was quite an eye opener, shining a light on the wide gap between enthusiasm and hype versus the reality of actual boomer/senior buyers and users. For example, in case you were wondering: the tablet, E-reader and smart phone have not taken the 65+ population by storm. But 24% of boomers and 11% of seniors have smart phones today – and I believe that number will double at the next survey. Not exactly a groundswell, nevertheless a clear recognition of benefit.
Here are seven tech products/platforms (some free!) designed for all, including older adults. Sometimes, like the PC, they can be declared as so yesterday, but don't believe what you read. These tech offerings (possibly despite the vendor) are designed for all ages -- they are/will be usable and inexpensive for older adults as the adoption of their base platform grows. For those in the services businesses who work with seniors, surprise a local vendor with a new market and invite in a few to do a demo! Or visit the phone store and say 'show me!' As with any new tool, a bit of startup guidance on the use goes a long way.
- Netbook with large monitor. Netbooks are still cheap, recently dropping below $200 in price, no doubt due to iPad hysteria. Surprise, they do everything that a $400-600 iPad does, and more! They have a built-in camera for Skype, you can load up iTunes and watch rented movies, you can read a book, surf the web, view Flash videos, chat with your friends, and (bonus!!!) you can run all of the office software that is yours or read what is is sent to you, including that novel you’re writing in Word. They weigh in at under 3 pounds, twice the iPad weight, but many times the functionality if you're fond of producing punctuated paragraphs.
- Free Kindle Reader software. It’s not necessary to go out and buy a Kindle (I know, crazy, to read a book that sadly someday soon may be only viewable through E-readers). The free software can be downloaded for a PC or a smartphone, syncing up where you are in the book depending on which device you’re using. Caveat: you still have to buy the book (although many on Amazon are free or 99 cents.)
- Free GPS Navigation -- multiple phones. As Eric Taub noted in this weekend’s New York Times, you can spend upwards of $200 on a GPS device for your dashboard, or you can use the turn-by-turn voice-enabled navigation (“Take me to this restaurant in Anycity, USA”) on an Android phone for free – assuming you have the phone and a data plan – and you can also use the device as a phone and a website search tool. I might argue that it is almost enough reason to get the phone to be able to speak your search request rather than type it. Turn-by-turn navigation is, of course, available or downloadable for BlackBerry, iPhone.
- Emergency response software – multiple phones. This is an interesting and recent app introduction – literally called Personal Emergency Response Systems (just like ‘I’ve fallen and I can’t…’ you know what I'm talking about.). Now there are smart phone PERS applications -- Guardly, vSOS, BuddyGuard, GreatCall, and others -- for less than $15/month, linking to a call center when you press the (app) button on the phone. Promoted as usable by teenagers out alone, these apps have utility for any older adult including the "40% of the 75+ population living alone."
- Fitness tracking technologies – multiple devices. FitBit, DirectLife, and other technologies are, ironically, targeted at the young and fit (all part of the ‘measured self’ trend/fad.) However, these technologies are great for monitoring anyone's status and, more to the point, up and about movement – same tech, different use. The data can be transmitted to the older adult's own netbook with large monitor. Could be a great gift.
- Microsoft Kinect applications -- multiple vendors. From cardiac rehab to treating autism, Microsoft's Kinect platform is being applied for multiple purposes and uses (take a look at just the possibilities in medical applications) -- with a developer's kit out now for non-commercial research, hopefully apps will spill forth (beyond the Ideo cool demo) that clearly will benefit all ages, with multi uses, likely no XBox will be required.
- Palm devices and software. With all the hoopla about iPhones and Androids, it might be useful to remember that is a still market out there for Palm devices (including the $62 PalmOne m500!) You can buy a stylus pack of three (no need to finger a finicky flickering screen), as well as plenty of software for them, including OnTimeRx (for medication reminders, $10.99, see Susan Torrico's offer in the comment below) and Memory Coach, at $9.95 for training visual memory.