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New Devices

The Plain Dealer


The Plain Dealer


New devices on the market or in the works aim to help elderly users navigate life with more ease

Eva Kahana, a Case Western Reserve University sociologist who studies the lifestyles of elderly people, once asked one of her research subjects how things were going.

The older woman had a memory glitch. She couldn't come up with the name of the person she wanted to tell Kahana about. So the 80-year-old whipped out her Palm Pilot and looked it up.

"She was way ahead of me," said Kahana, the director of the university's Elderly Care Research Center. "I didn't even have a Palm Pilot."

Indeed, the electronic age has been embraced by many born around the time when General Electric introduced one of its first TV sets -- one with a 3-by-4-inch screen.

"It's foolish to say they can't use e-mail. They write to their grandkids; that's their motivation," said Linda Noelker, senior vice president of gerontology and sociology at Cleveland's Benjamin Rose Institute, which offers care, research and advocacy for seniors.

In the past 10 years, Noelker has seen a pickup in new technology aimed at or transferred to use by seniors. "Look at the Wii, which [senior center] activity directors picked up on so quickly," said Noelker, who noted that seniors enjoy the electronic virtual sports like bowling that they can play by using subtle body movements. As products become more affordable, she said, more people will likely use them.

New York elder-care expert and author Marion Somers applauds cutting-edge items like a device being developed by Wisconsin-based GrandCare Systems LLC. It attaches to a TV to provide a dedicated channel on which family members can post personal pictures and messages for long-distance relatives to see.

Electronic products that decrease social isolation, like the TV channel, or security systems, like one that lets an adult child know his mother forgot to take her medication today, are either being designed or already here for "the geriatric tsunami heading this way," said Somers, known as Doctor Marion on her Web site, Doctormarion.com.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by 2030, more than 20 percent of the country's population will be 65 or older.

Somers and other experts caution that although seniors buy in to some safety technology, like indoor sensors, they balk at surveillance cameras that track their every move. "They want respect for their privacy," said Somers.

Here are some items already here or on the horizon for seniors.


Doctors can conduct house calls through the uBOT-5's secure Internet connection. The robot can even apply a digital stethoscope to the patient, relaying important medical information. The uBOT-5, not yet on the market, was developed by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

See a video demonstration of uBot5 on ">YouTube.

Someone ringing the doorbell in the middle of the night? The camera outside the door will transmit to a cell phone an image of who's there. Smoke? A voice will tell the occupant to evacuate. Sensors track movement in the house to make sure that if Mother goes into the bathroom, she comes out. If she doesn't, a voice will ask if she's OK. No response? Then a call is placed to a caregiver or police.

A dozen homes have been built, said John Bertoty, the former high school principal who helped start Blueroof. Prices run from $100,000 to $180,000, depending on which of the four house styles is chosen, for a fully wired three-bedroom cottage (not including property cost). The modular houses are built in either of two factories and shipped, or can be built to Blueroof specifications on-site. Visit www.bluerooftechnologies.com to see home illustrations and floor plans.

EZ Wheeler Cart The EZ Wheeler Cart will make two household tasks easier when it's perfected. The wheeled basket can be easily dialed to table height or below. The front of the basket falls to a 90-degree angle to allow for easing clothes into a washer or dryer or unpacking groceries. Creative Action LLC is working on a foldable version of the cart that will cost about $100.
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