An elder-care tech boom is under way. For the sandwich generation — the 54% of Americans now caring for aging loved ones while also raising children — the latest tech tools can provide a watchful eye, constant connection and comfort on both sides knowing that you’ll be there when your parents need you most.
For those over 75 who want to live out the remainder of their lives in their own homes, gadgets can help them hang on to independence longer, while also ensuring safety and comfort. None of it has to cost a fortune or be overly complicated; several studies show seniors who simply use internet are less prone to depression.
Here are some of the best new tech tools to help our aging parents grow older with grace and gadgets.
1. A robot roommate
ElliQ ($249.99 and $29.99 per month) is a friendly little companion robot that sits on a base next to a tablet and comes to life when you engage with it — either by saying “her” name or just by your physical presence in the room. “She” speaks in natural, conversational language — kind of like a cross between Siri and Wall-E — and is billed as the first “digital care companion designed specifically for those aged 65+.”
If she senses that something’s wrong, she can summon help from a pre-programmed list of primary contacts. She can also start up a video call and send text messages. With onboard AI, ElliQ can pick up patterns, learn daily routines and remember what you tell her, which adds a level of empathy and personalization to the whole experience.
2. Tablets designed for people 75+
The GrandPad ($57 per month) is a high-tech tablet built specifically for people who might otherwise get turned off by tech. It comes pre-programmed with easy-to-see categories, so all you have to do is plug it in and go. Onboard built-in 4G LTE means it can connect anytime, anywhere, with no WiFi to worry about.
It’s a “no-frills” gadget with built-in games, music streaming, private family photo and video streams, and an easy-to-use video chat app for multi-party calls. If there’s a problem, a simple tap brings up a support agent any time of the day or night.
3. Animatronic pets
Studies show that pets help overall health, combating loneliness and social isolation. To get the joy of a pet without the work, take a look at Ageless Innovations’ Joy for All Companion animatronic pals, including the brand-new Walker Squawker ($64.99, available in June).
This latest animatronic pet is the idea of 93-year-old Rita Melone. She brought the concept to Ageless Innovations after forgetting to use her walker when she stood up. She wanted something small enough to perch atop her actual metal walker but pleasant enough to live with day in and out.
The Walker Squawker joins the already popular Ageless Innovation Pups and Cats. The Pups bark, and Cats meow, turn their head at the sound of your voice, and respond to touch. You even feel a heartbeat when you hug them.
4. A proactive pill dispenser
The Hero pill dispenser ($99.99 one-time fee and $29.99 per month, or $24.99 per month if paying up front) is a countertop device about the size of a small coffee maker. It stores, sorts and dispenses up to a 90-day supply of 10 different medications.
You can pour pills into a cartridge and slide it into the dispenser without having to count or sort anything—it’s all automatic. The companion app sends alerts when it’s time to take a dose and provides real-time adherence data to caregivers and families looking after their loved ones.
One of the only cons is that you have to set it all up with arrows, versus the more straightforward push-to-program touchscreen. For that reason, it requires more set-up than most other gadgets on this list.
5. The next-gen of “I’ve fallen and can’t get up!”
Falls and accidents, either at home or on the go, are a huge problem for older adults trying to live independent lives. One in 4 older adults fall each year, according to the CDC, making falls the leading cause of injury-related death among older adults in the U.S. That’s an alarming number, but personal medical devices like the LifeStation Sidekick ($37.95 per month) can help.
The Sidekick is a small, lightweight wearable with a help button that summons emergency support at a moment’s notice. With built-in GPS and advanced fall detection, it knows if help is needed and points responders to the exact location.
For a look at what’s to come in this category, check out the Tango Belt (currently in clinical trials). This “smart belt” can sense a serious hip-impacting fall, deploy airbags around the hips, and alert caregivers for help. It’s in the middle of a clinical trial and is due out next year.
6. Support in the form of a tech “pal”
Papa is an online service that calls itself “the first curated platform of companionship and support for older adults and families.” The company works directly with insurance providers and employers to help ease the burden on someone who’s spouse or aging loved ones might need extra care.
They call the caregivers “Papa Pals,” which is a network of people vetted, trained and trusted to bring companionship and everyday support to the underserved and overwhelmed. The Pals make anywhere from $20-$25 per hour, and the program’s available in all 50 states.
7. And sometimes, it’s just the little things ...
The simplest daily chores can often become the most taxing endeavors for seniors. While not incredibly high-tech, some of these easy-to-find and inexpensive gadgets provide a great deal of help for people who need it most. Smart plugs, voice-activated speakers and even inexpensive smart sensors can be a big help.
The Foot Funnel Shoe Horn is an excellent example. It’s genius for putting on shoes because, unlike a traditional shoehorn, you position it around the shoe opening before you even start putting it on. The “foot funnel” opens up the show and guides your foot in, all without bending down. And when you're done, an attached lanyard lets you retrieve the simple device with a gentle tug from a sitting or standing position.