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Nation & World

A golden age for gadgets: Companies cater to seniors with hi-tech helpers

For older adults who grew up before the personal computer, iPhones and Amazon Echo became technological mainstays in everyday life, a growing number of startups are working on smart devices with features designed to keep aging minds and bodies healthy.

Personal-assistant robots such as the ElliQ and Cutii, smart shoes that signal a fall and even a smart hip-protection airbag – all still in prototype and not yet available in the consumer market – recently debuted at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, designed with features for aging people whose senses may no longer be pin sharp.

From technology-assisted home-care services such as Honor to hardware products such as grandPad’s tablet for seniors, with a magnifying glass and simplified apps, businesses are seeking to tap into a booming population of older adults and help them tackle a critical challenge of modern aging: social isolation.

For older adults, the current landscape of technological devices may already be too hard to navigate.

Some of the design features that younger adults look for in devices, like a smaller size and a quieter speaker, are undesirable for older adults, Dr. Carla Perissinotto, an associate professor in geriatrics at UC San Francisco.

Other startups aim to ease older adults into using their products with simpler features. grandPad makes iPad-like tablets for the elderly with bigger icons and a bigger power button. The tablet, which provides a dozen basic apps, has senior-friendly features such as a magnifying glass to help read small text, and a wireless charger since some users may forget to charge the tablet regularly.

“We need to make the technology sophisticated enough that it makes it look easy,” said Dr. Kerry Burnight, a former professor of geriatrics at UC Irvine who now serves as chief gerontologist for grandPad. “It’s not dumbing down; it’s the opposite.”

ElliQ and grandPad focus their apps on keeping older adults socially and mentally engaged by providing easy video calls or playing music playlists to improve one’s mood and decrease stress.

French startup Cutii, with its eponymous personal robot, seeks to connect older adults through organized activities and exercises arranged by the robot, said founder Antoine Bataille.

Yet even with robots designed to help the elderly stave off social isolation, doctors still say the human touch is the best medicine.

“There is no substitution for in-human connections,” said Perissinotto. “Even if you use technology, it should be only as a supplement.”


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