The technological age

by Jessica Calderwood

Where do you aspire to be at age 75? Do you envision living in a nursing home, reliant on the care of others, or do you imagine your own familiar home where you are living independently?

Being independent and living in your own home is the biggest goal for aging people, said Scott Wright, director of the Gerontology Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Utah.

Gerontology is the study of the social, psychological and biological aspects of aging. There is now an emerging field of study called gerontechnology. It combines the field of gerontology and the field of technology. The goal and main focus of this field is to help older adults maintain their independence and quality of life throughout the aging process.

Many older adults, like Gayle Olson, 81, enjoy independence.

“I’m not up in the technology,” Olson said.

Although she feels she is not technologically savvy, Olson benefits from technological advances that make her home life easier and more fulfilling.
She enjoys staying in touch with her 11 children and their families over the phone. However, she doesn’t own a cell phone.

It gives her peace of mind to know that her Social Security check will be electronically deposited into her bank account each month. She knows it’s there, but doesn’t use a computer.

She relies on the weather report from the local news to plan her outings.

Such simple things may not seem technologically advanced. However, they are important in maintaining independence and happiness in Olson’s life.

“The fountain of youth is being active,” Wright said. Most importantly, if a person can stay physically and mentally active, they will have a higher quality of life at any age.

For those willing to learn, there are computer games that monitor and exercise cognitive ability.

There are now sensors that can be installed in the home to notify a caregiver if a person is potentially unsafe. For example, caregivers would know if a person has fallen down or has not turned off the stove.

Health technologies that monitor blood pressure, respiration and other conditions in real time while the person is at home reduce the need for frequent doctor visits.

Medication dispensers provide the correct medicines at the appropriate times, reminding a person to take them using flashing lights and sounds.

For people like Olson, utilizing technological advances to improve quality of life can be something as simple as listening to a book on CD when eyesight begins to deteriorate.

Gerontechnologists focus on these specific aspects of life that can be improved through technology: health, housing, mobility, communication, leisure and work.

The International Society for Gerontechnology (ISG), established in 1997, is a nonprofit organization in the Netherlands. It has branches and members throughout the world and organizes conferences every two to five years.

The seventh world conference of the ISG will occur in Vancouver, Canada, in May 2010. Experts in gerontechnology will share their knowledge and experience. The conference is a meeting of the minds of professionals who desire to apply their expertise and the latest technology to enhance the health, functional capacity and quality of life of older adults.

Another organization focusing on applying technology to the issue of aging is the Center for Aging Services Technologies (CAST), which was organized in 2002.

CAST is an international coalition of more than 400 technology companies, aging-services organizations, businesses, research universities and government representatives working together under the sponsorship of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging.

Both of these organizations involve the coming together of experts in their respective fields. They have the desire to apply technology in new and innovative ways to improve the lives of aging adults.

Wright believes within 20 years, technology will transform what it means to grow old. The technological advances and applications will not only improve the longevity and health of older adults, but will also help them adapt to the natural aging process.

Aging adults can look forward to many new and exciting advances in technology. One of those advances is the invention of future home assistant robots like the robulab10 being developed by ROBOSOFT of France. Different models of this particular robot will provide cognitive assistance or physical assistance in the home.

Apple’s iPhone: a benefit for senior citizens

by James Williams

The Gateway Mall in Salt Lake City has something for just about everyone. There are clothing stores, sporting good stores, restaurants and even a movie theater. Nestled among them all is the only Apple Store in the city.

Here, customers come and go all day looking at the various computers, iPods and iPhones on display. Though looking is nice, experimenting with devices such as the iPhone is even better.

“They are very easy to use,” said Katie Towne, an iPhone specialist at the store. “There are applications on the iPhone for just about everyone,” she said. And that includes senior citizens.

“Utah is the fifth fastest growing state for the aging population,” said Scott Wright, director of gerontology at the University of Utah. Senior citizens want to know what they can do and where they can move to live longer, he said. For many seniors, Utah is one of those places. Technology, like the iPhone, can help them navigate their new community.

“We are living longer and it is going to revolutionize our society much like the industrial revolution in England,” Wright said. For senior citizens this type of technology can ease the challenges they face today. “Technology is one thing that can help aging adults the most,” Wright said. “It’s the intersect between the generations.”

With more than 85,000 downloadable applications, known as apps, available to iPhone users, senior citizens are sure to find something on the iPhone that can benefit them. One such app that Towne demonstrated is “Evernote,” which helps users with memory troubles. People can record voice notes, type notes and even create visual notes using the iPhone’s camera. All of the stored notes are easily accessible, which is another benefit to users. Evernote “creates sort of a to-do list for people with a bad memory,” Towne said.

One feature that comes standard on the iPhone and can assist senior citizens is the built-in map. It will show the current location of the iPhone on the screen, and when a user double taps the screen, it activates the built-in compass, which will help seniors find addresses and other places of interest.

Another map application designed specifically for senior citizens helps users locate local senior centers.

Yet another app helps senior citizens find decent and affordable housing.

“Sensory loss is a normal part of aging,” said Wright, which is something that Apple has taken into consideration.

The iPhone has almost no buttons, Towne said. “It is easy to use and you do not have to over-think it,” she said.

For senior citizens who have trouble reading small text on cell phone screens, the iPhone‘s zoom feature can help. Towne demonstrated this feature by double tapping the screen with three fingers. Users can also enable the high-contrast mode, which can make the screen more visible.

Towne pointed out the voice-over feature that users can enable if the text still is too small to read. When users enable this feature, the iPhone reads the contents of the screen.

The iPhone seems to appeal to senior citizens. “I’m surprised actually. Many people 60 and above use them,” Towne said.

However, there’s a major drawback to technology like the iPhone. It’s often expensive. According to PC World’s Web site, today’s version of the iPhone costs approximately $235.99 after taxes and fees, with an additional $159.82 in monthly user fees. Senior citizens on a tight monthly budget might find the price tough to afford.

While the iPhone is not a viable option for all seniors, learning about technology can be. The Apple Store at the Gateway Mall can assist senior citizens who want to experiment with cheaper forms of new technology. “It’s never too late to start,” Wright said.

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