Most people love gadgets. While older people are often seen as unwilling to master new technology, that stereotype might cause younger people to avoid giving gadgets as gifts to their older family members. A recent study suggests that older people may avoid new technology because they accept the stereotype that technological competence decreases with age.
Rather than reinforcing stereotypes, younger people searching for gifts for older relatives and friends should not assume that the recipient’s age makes gadgets any less useful or fun. Rather, they take the time to teach the recipient how to use the gadget. To avoid condescension, the giver should first ask whether the older recipient wants help. Regardless of age, some people like to learn how to use gadgets by trial and error, while others might already be familiar with similar technology.
These gadgets might be particularly fun or useful gifts for an older person:
A couple of decades ago, the Tamagotchi was a trendy gift for children. Parents hoped that their kids would learn to be responsible by taking care of a digital pet.
Virtual pets have evolved since the Tamagotchi fad. Owners of a Nintendo console can buy Nintendogs, an animated puppy that must be fed, trained, and walked. Research suggests that a virtual dog provides companionship, but the experience is significantly less satisfying than owning a real dog.
Research suggests that actual pets “enhance the physical, emotional and social well-being of older people.” Some older people might be in a living situation that prohibits pets. Others might not want the burden of caring for one. A digital pet might not be as satisfying as a real animal, but more realistic alternatives are now available.
Plush dogs and cats with electronic innards are marketed as companionship providers for older people. The pets are designed to feel and sound like real animals. Unlike real pets, the electronic versions do not destroy furniture or require expensive veterinary care. An electronic bird that perches on walkers is designed to remind seniors to use their walkers and to entertain them with birdsong when they sense that the walker is in motion.
Companionship robots do not always take the form of pets. Virtual assistants like Alexi and Siri can answer questions, but they aren’t programmed to provide companionship. The ElliQ was designed to serve that purpose. The robot answers questions, reminds owners to take medication, and makes small talk. The State of New York recently purchased 800 ElliQ devices to serve as companions for seniors.
Headphones and Speakers
Hearing loss is a common problem for older adults. Turning up the volume on a TV set might disturb neighbors while distorting sound quality. Fortunately, gadgets offer a better solution.
Seniors who aren’t ready for hearing aides might benefit from TV headphones. Bluetooth earbuds are a good choice for seniors who have Bluetooth-enabled smart TVs.
If a television is not equipped with Bluetooth, wireless TV headphones are the next best solution. A transmitter plugs into the TV’s headphone jack, sending a wireless signal to headphones. Some headphones fit over the ears while others are designed as earbuds. Many systems come with two sets of headphones so that couples can watch television together.
Seniors who wear hearing aides might benefit from wireless headphones that fit over the ears. Some hearing aides also have a Bluetooth connectivity. Seniors who do not have Bluetooth-enabled smart TVs might benefit from a Bluetooth TV adapter that allows any television to transmit a Bluetooth signal.
Seniors who find headsets to be uncomfortable might enjoy a wireless speaker. Seniors can maintain a comfortable distance from the television while sitting next to a volume-adjustable speaker. Wireless speakers typically connect to televisions through Bluetooth.
Passive Leg Exercisers
“Passive exercise” seems like an oxymoron. Cardiovascular exercise strengthens the heart by making it work harder. Working out with weights combines muscle building with cardio exercise. An effective cardio workout is active rather than passive.
Muscles can nevertheless be strengthened without vigorous exercise. Passive leg exercisers keep a senior’s legs in motion while the senior remains seated. Passive exercise stimulates leg muscles and might improve an older person’s ability to walk. Passive exercise may improve blood flow in the legs and promote the flow of antibodies and white blood cells, critical components when the body fights infection.
People of all ages have trouble remembering where they put their keys. Key finders consist of a tracker that attaches to a key ring and a smart phone app that activates an alarm on the tracker. Following the sound of the alarm helps the owner find misplaced keys, assuming the owner didn’t misplace his or her smartphone.
People who think about gadgets for their parents often default to robot vacuums. Robot vacuums frighten cats and torment dogs, but they help seniors avoid the tedium of pushing a vacuum cleaner.
Unfortunately, robot vacuums are not as effective as traditional vacuum cleaners. A robot vacuum doesn’t get into corners and can’t handle stairs. Robots try to inhale small objects that a human would avoid. They generally lack the power of a regular vacuum cleaner. Testing shows that robots clean hard floors better than they clean carpeting. Shag rugs might not survive an encounter with a robot vacuum.
Still, robot vacuums can be programmed to clean on a schedule. They can be useful for older people who have trouble pushing a regular vacuum cleaner. Whether the gift would be worth the money might depend on whether the older person values convenience over the more thorough cleaning that a human can provide with a traditional machine.