Aging with Technology . . . A Way to Stay Independent
What do these have in common?
alarm clock . television remote control . microwave oven . electric can opener . telephone . grocery cart . golf cart . air conditioner . ATM card and machine . computer or typewriter . lipstick . riding lawn mower . garage door opener . hair spray . soap . calculator . radio . sewing machine . exercise machine
Give up? They are technologies! They are tools, or innovations, that help get something done . . . from looking more attractive to balancing the checkbook.
Today, we call tools that help someone who may have a speaking, vision, hearing, mobility, or memory loss, assistive technology (AT). It's assistive because it supports, bolsters or helps a person do something. It's technology because it is a [study] of what is known about a science to solve a problem.1 For example, out of a need for a chocolate candy that didn't melt quickly, we got M&M's!
Just as a child uses a walker to learn to walk, an older adult may use another kind of walker to continue walking. The difference is . . . almost everyone knows about baby walkers.
- that most department and discount chains have them,
- that when we get to the store there will be several to choose from, and
- approximate cost.
That's not the case for most AT. Who knows where to find something to help someone turn a key, or bake a cake using only one hand, or sign a check if you can't see the line? Assistive technologies often remove the barriers to life's daily problems, and mean the difference between dependence and independence, between living at home and not.
Learning about AT should top the "TO DO" list for anyone approaching his2 50's. Knowing what is "out there" at a younger age can make life easier later on, when we may not be energetic enough to search for other options. This TECHNOTE will help you discover how and what assistive technologies may help you as you age.
Hear ye, Hear ye?
As we age, we hear differently. Higher and lower tones tend to fade away. Devices that control volume and pitch can help bring back those tones. There are devices for televisions, stereos, movies, and large meetings so someone with a hearing loss can keep up with the information they need to be part of the community.
Volume control telephones can increase the speaker volume and also the loudness of the ringer. If a person cannot hear at all, they can get another device free, called a TTY (teletypewriter). A free relay service connects TTY users to anyone with a regular phone, like your doctor, the bank, friends, etc. A relay operator will type the callers words into the TTY so the user can see it rather than hear it.
If a stroke or injury changes a person's ability to speak, there are several ways to give him back his "voice." Picture boards, electronic communication devices and even computer software programs can let him express his needs, desires and opinions.
There is no reason, with today's technology, why anyone can't say what he wants to say.
Watch What You're Doing
Can you see things clearly? Do you wear glasses or contact lenses? Remember the first time you put them on? Weren't you amazed at what you had been missing? Didn't it change your attitude about doing what was once too hard, or even impossible?
Eye glasses aren't the only way to improve vision. Magnifiers come in all shapes and sizes: hold them in your hand, hang them on your glasses, lay them over a page, suspend them over a desk, or even hang them around your neck if you want. You can also find lighted magnifiers. They work well to improve not only the size of the text, but they also increase the contrast. One of the highest tech examples of a magnifier is a "closed circuit television" or CCTV.
A CCTV magnifies text, pictures, personal letters, cards and even bills onto a television screen so that they are easier to read. The electronic magnifier allows the user to find the magnification that is just right for him. It can even change black print on white paper to white print on a black background. That reduces the glare for some people and makes it easier to read.
Many magazines, papers, catalogs and books, etc. come in large print versions. Call the publication you subscribe to and ask for an alternate format if you need it. If large print does not help you, they may have Braille, an audio tape or computer disk. Your local library and bookstore probably have a large print section . . . Check it out!
Like games? Many of them come in large print or Braille versions too!
Need help writing on lines, etc.? A writing guide can help you write checks, address envelopes and write letters.
Having trouble distinguishing a five-dollar bill from a twenty? There are devices that "read" money for you!
If you do not pour drinks anymore because you tend to spill, there are devices that can help you out with that too! These are just a few of the many things that can help a person with poor vision stay vital and active.
We all want to stay active and moving. However, bending and stretching to reach elusive places like under the bed, the top shelf in the kitchen cabinet, low wall plugs, and light fixtures can be increasingly challenging to reach as we age. A wall outlet extender that raises an outlet two feet without rewiring (see picture), a long handled light bulb reacher, a stepping stool, self-wringing mop (see picture next page) or lightweight vacuum cleaner can save energy and keep you going longer. There are even long handled shoe horns and sock pullers to help with putting on shoes and socks.
Arthritis can make it difficult to grasp objects as we age. Often something as simple as building up the handle on a toothbrush, fork or gardening tool makes it easier to hold. Adapted cookware, pen/pencil holders and key holders also help create a universe where holding on to a small object is easier.
Swivel cushions and lift seats make it easier to get out of a car. Why waste all that energy fighting with the car seat, when you could use it cruisin' around the mall or spending time with friends? Just as walking shoes support the foot and ankle and support stockings ease muscle fatigue, assistive technologies create fun and freedom for the people who use them.
Help, I've fallen. . .
As we age, our reaction time slows. That makes it more difficult to regain our balance after a sudden movement which can result in a fall. While the best remedy for this is to maintain an active life-style, there are also supports you can use to help maintain your balance.
Today, you don't have to have an "institutional" looking walking stick. They come in designer colors and even in patterns to suit your mood or outfit. Canes or crutches that are attractive and safe provide the support you need to walk, balance or even help you to a standing position with a touch of glamour.
In wintery weather, wear boots with rubber soles for better traction. If the sidewalk looks slippery, walk in the grass. Carry a small bag of rock salt, kosher salt or kitty litter in your pocket or car. Sprinkle it anywhere that looks treacherous.
Inside, keep your rooms free of clutter, especially on the floors. Wear low-heeled supportive shoes... avoid walking around in socks, stockings or scuffs. Put skid proof backing on all the area rugs. Make sure the hallways and stairways are well lit.
If your vision isn't what it used to be, consider putting florescent tape on the edges of the top and bottom step. Keep a flashlight with fresh batteries beside the bed to light your way to the refrigerator for those late-night snacks. Use 100 watt bulbs.
Consider putting a phone in the bathroom. It's not extravagant if you consider how dangerous it is jumping out of the bath or shower to answer the phone. Also, if you should slip and fall in the bathroom, a conveniently placed telephone can bring help fast.
Here's what AARP suggests: "Choose a phone with touch tone numbers for easy dialing in case of an emergency. A speaker phone attachment allows you to talk without having to use the receiver. Hang the phone on the wall, close to shower, tub, or toilet."3
Reorganize your work areas and storage so you don't have to do any excessive reaching or stooping. If you must use a stepstool, get one with a handrail and wide steps. 4
Oops, I forgot!
Older adults have more to remember, because more has happened to us. That's not the only reason we forget things, but it's a good excuse! AT can help us hold on to life's devious details. For example, auto-dial phones can have a picture of the person, rather than their name on the button. Press the picture... call the person.
Written planners, tape recorders, magnetic boards, bulletin boards and medication beepers can remind us of the time or of appointments. There are even beepers to help you find your missing keys.
If you've ever thought, "Gee, there ought to be something out there to help me [insert your frustrating task here]" it's probably available, you just don't know about it... yet.
Can I Afford AT?
Getting the tools you need to stay independent, doesn't have to cost you "the farm." Get an old tennis ball, cut a "X" in the top and bottom. Push a fork (or pen) through the openings. Like magic... you have an adapted eating utensil (or easy grip pen)! Sometimes, just moving the furniture around (i.e., the recliner closer to the bathroom) will be the only adjustment you need.
For things that cost more, consider third-party funding sources... private insurance, Medicare, social and state agencies, community organizations or other private sources are all potential sources of support.
Where can I learn more?
Assistive Technology Demonstration and Loan Center
Illinois Assistive Technology Program
1 West Old State Capitol Plaza, Suite 100
(Corner of 5th and Washington)
Springfield, IL 62701
800-852-5110 v/tty IL only
Take a tour of the center, pick up literature, catalogs and other information at the resource library on site and try out a device before buying it!
Illinois Department on Aging
American Association of Retired Persons (AARP)
202-434-2277v or 202-434-2479tty
AARP has a wealth of information on technology and home adaptations. One in particular deals with universal design. Check out their home page.
Statewide Independent Living Council (SILC)
122 South Fourth Street
Springfield, IL 62701
There are 22 centers for independent living in Illinois. They are a great resource for anyone who wants to remain independent. Contact the Illinois Network for Independent Living for more information - www.incil.org
1. Definition of technology, by Michael McCormick, Rockingham School, Halifax N.S., Canada.
2. In this TECHNOTE we consistently use the masculine pronouns, he, him, his. We do this for ease of reading. We certainly understand that women also face these same issues. In other IATP documents we use feminine pronouns.
3. From AARP home page: http://www.aarp.org/universalhome/bathroomphone.html. [This webpage is no longer active]
4. These tips are from the National Institutes of Health, Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases ~ National Resource Center. www.osteo.org/newsfalls.htm. [This webpage is no longer active]