Free to Be: What’s New in Aging-in-Place Tech
As you might expect, the overwhelming majority of people 65-plus want to live longer independently, at home, rather than move into a long-term care facility. Photo: Dean Mitchell
There are now more than 7 million Canadians aged 65 and older — and nearly 13,000 centenarians! — and many have spoken loud and clear about how and where they want to live.
As you might expect, the overwhelming majority want to live longer independently, at home, rather than move into a long-term care facility or retirement home, or rely on in-home help.
Understandably, the pandemic has further fuelled the preference to ‘age in place,’ for as long as you wish or are able. Technology can play a key role here, to help you and your loved ones stay healthy and connected, while living alone or with an aging partner.
We’ve looked at aging-in-place solutions in previous Zoomer articles, but there is enough activity in this space to justify another peek at what’s new and newsworthy. The following are a few suggestions, covering a wide range of needs.
Reminders, Organizers, Dispensers
Whether it’s for taking medications or reminders about appointments and special dates, tech can be a helpful companion.
Only $34 instead of $69 until Jan. 2, 2022, the Google Nest mini is a voice-controlled speaker powered by Google Assistant. As you likely know, wake up your device by saying “Okay Google,” followed by a question (e.g. “What’s the weather like outside?”) or give a command (“Every day at 2 p.m., remind me to take my pills”). Your trusty virtual companion will answer you clearly in a soft female voice, as “she” pulls up traffic info, sports scores, your favourite song, audiobooks, news, jokes and much more. Just connect it to your Wi-Fi and you’re good to go.
Pro tip: You can even make free phone calls to any North American 10-digit landline or mobile number.
Available in a few different colours, Google’s latest donut-shaped (and wall-mountable) smart speaker is louder and clearer, has smarter AI, and is made from recycled materials.
If you’d prefer a smart display and not just a smart speaker, Amazon’s Echo Show 15 ($329) is Amazon’s largest to date, at 15.6 inches, making it ideal to mount on a wall or prop up on a table, desk or kitchen island (in either landscape or portrait orientation). Use your voice to ask a question, initiate a video call, pull up a calendar, play music or request a recipe for virtually any dish you can think of.
Or use your fingertip to write a (virtual) sticky note to remind you of something, stream a TV show or jot down a shopping list (and it’ll be synchronized with your phone).
The handy photo frame feature also lets you use your Echo Show 15 to display your albums from Amazon Photos or Facebook.
Another idea is the SMPL Reminder Rosie alarm clock (usually $120, but on sale for $80), a voice-controlled clock with a large display, which is ideal for one-time reminders or repeated tasks (even for multiple dates you want to ask about). The hands-free gizmo plays messages for you at the desired time — and can even be recorded by a loved one if you prefer to hear a familiar voice.
Pill dispensers are another popular category of products — with several players including Medipense, Philips, e-Pill and others — that can remind you when it’s time to take medication and dispense the proper medication at the correct time.
Falling is a major concern for aging individuals — and their loved ones — especially when living alone.
Wearable devices, however, such as a pendants and smartwatches, can sense an incident, and relay the information to a remote caregiver and/or emergency services.
In another Zoomer article, I looked at Philips Lifeline products and Apple Watch SE. But Apple now has a larger and more durable flagship device, Apple Watch Series 7 (from $529), a smartwatch with multiple sensors to monitor your health and fitness. Now with faster charging and an always-on screen (opposed to models that turn black when you’re not looking at them), Apple Watch 7 can call loved ones or 911 if it detects a fall and you don’t answer that you’re okay.
Apple Watch Series 7 also has a built-in ECG (electrocardiogram) to detect a dangerously high or low heart rate, irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmias) and a blood oxygen monitor (pulse oximeter) to assess the amount of oxygen carried in the body by sending light into your wrist.
If you prefer talking with a person in the event of a fall, TELUS Health Companion (from $49/month) includes a GPS + Cellular version of Apple Watch SE for this monthly price.
This service gives you access to live emergency operators through your cellular version of Apple Watch, 24/7, whether you’re home or not. Speaking of two-way voice, you can also take calls and texts through your wrist even if your smartphone isn’t nearby. It’s also water-resistant, so you take a shower with it, where falls may be more likely.
With consent, cameras are an affordable and simple way to keep a virtual eye on loved ones living alone.
Many seniors have regular meals with friends and family over a video chat — ideal for companionship as we head into colder months, plus we’re not quite out of the pandemic yet.
And, unlike a phone call, when you check in on a family member you can see how they look and what the condition of their living space is.
Whether it’s a webcam or any other indoor two-way camera, these are easy to set up and use, and are quite affordable. For example, from Canada’s Lorex, the 2K Indoor Wi-Fi Security Camera is only $50 and doesn’t require a monthly subscription. Features include local storage (to archive video conversations), a wide 125-degree field of view and person detection, so you can be notified via the free Lorex app on a smartphone whenever a relative or friend sits down to chat. You simply need to join the camera to your Wi-Fi to get going.
If you own one of the latest iPads — specifically, the iPad (9th generation), iPad mini 6 (2021), or iPad Pro (2021) — Apple now has a feature called Center Stage, used during video calls (FaceTime, Zoom, whatever) that allows you to go hands-free and multitask during a video call because it’ll track you and keep you centred in the frame the entire time. Similar to what Facebook Portal and some Amazon Echo smart displays offer, this Apple technology uses the front 12-megapixel ultra-wide TrueDepth camera on compatible iPads, along with machine learning, to recognize you and keep you centred. If someone joins you, the camera zooms out to fit you both in the frame.
Finally, Best Buy Canada has rolled out its Assured Living platform, as part of Best Buy Health, which includes cameras and — with one of its offerings — activity-based sensors around the home that can discretely reassure remote caregivers that those living alone are doing fine.
The Wellcam package, for example, includes a video feed (with two-way voice), which loved ones can see on an app, and be notified of unexpected movement. The camera offers a wide 180-degree lens, with zoom features, and Full HD (1080p) resolution. Costs start at $350 per Wellcam camera, and expandable to up to four cameras, plus a monthly fee of $11 on a no-term commitment. You can install the camera yourself or use Best Buy’s Geek Squad, for $100.
The beefier Wellness Monitoring package, on the other hand, includes a Wellness camera but also sensors placed throughout the home. A smartphone app gives insight on details like activity levels and sleeping patterns. You’ll receive automatic real-time alerts triggered by inactivity or unexpected activity patterns. For example, you can be notified if a sensor is triggered, like on a front door or by the fridge or medicine cabinet, or if a sensor is not triggered (if it’s unusual for your loved ones not to leave the bedroom by, say, 9 a.m., for instance).
This package includes one control panel (Wi-Fi and cellular connected), three door/window sensors, one motion sensor and one bed sensor. Fees are $80/month (with a minimum six-month commitment) but includes the camera and robust technical support. Professional installation (Geek Squad) costs $200.
All prices listed are as of the time of publication. Please note that Zoomer contributors and editors have carefully curated these products to help you find the perfect gift. In certain instances, we may earn a small commission on products you buy by clicking on the links provided.