Senior Tech

Senior Tech

Lisa Cini has been designing senior living facilities for over 25 years. So, it wasn’t difficult for her to remodel her Columbus, Ohio, home so that she and her husband, her two teenagers, her 70-something-year-old parents, and her 92-year-old grandmother who had dementia, could all live under one roof.

After her grandmother died and her children went off to college, Cini saw a historic 10,000-plus-square-foot-mansion in Columbus for sale. Cini came up with a novel idea based on her experience in her multigenerational home and as owner of Mosaic Design Studio.

Cini wanted to buy the mansion and turn it into a short-term rental for older adults. Through her connections in the interior design industry, Cini created a comfortable, safe, and stylish Airbnb that incorporates new technology designed for seniors.

“Some guests stay, and never know there’s anything unusual,” in regards to the senior-centric technology, Cini said in an interview with NOLA.

The Werner House, which opened its doors in April, boasts nine bedrooms with adjoining bathrooms, a ballroom, a fitness spa, a walking pool, a speakeasy, three kitchens, and a movie and music room.

Some of the built-in technology includes:

Smart Floors. “Sole with Sensfloor Technology” from Shaw Contracts was installed as the subfloor. The intelligent flooring system has built-in sensors that can monitor foot activity, detect falls, and send alerts for help.

Sound-Absorbing Carpet. Older adults with hearing loss generally have trouble hearing in noisy, public places. The Werner House has sound-absorbing carpeting to block out noise in the dining room, speakeasy, and the living room.

Firmer Seats. Some seniors have trouble getting up and out of low, soft chairs and sofas. Cini made sure that chair cushions had ultra-dense foam, and no seat is lower than 19 inches. Some upholstered club chairs even have wood-and-brass hangars for holding a folded-up walker.

Specialized Bathrooms. The bathrooms feature spa tubs, and adjustable toilets that rise up to help people get seated and go down for ease of use. Toilet paper holders have built-in grab bars while standard toilets have a bidet toilet seat to help users wash their undersides. Adjustable sinks can be lowered to the height of a wheelchair, and the sinks also have side grab bars to help people sit and stand.

Smart Kitchen Cabinets. The smart cabinet moves up and down to the level of the person using the cabinet. The smart cabinets then return to their place. Kitchen cabinets adjust to accommodate both a 5-foot woman and a 6-foot man.

Cini said she installed technology designed for seniors in hopes that older adults who want to age in place might use the products in their homes.

Seniors Have Trouble Using Smartphones

Studies show that more older adults are purchasing smartphones, which connect to the Internet and functions like a personal computer. The share of adults age 65 and over who own smartphones has risen from 18 percent to 42 percent since 2013, according to a Pew Research study.

While older adults have smartphones, many have problems operating them. Knowing how to use a smartphone correctly is essential for older adults wanting to use smart home devices that are operated by apps on a smartphone.

“What I’ve found is people either really know how to use it or they don’t even know how to turn it on,” Brandi Bohanan told the North Carolina Health News. Bohanan, director of the Thomas A. Baum Senior Center in Dare County, NC, says more people ask for help with using their smartphone than they do their computer.

Bohanan said the center holds classes on the basics of using a smartphone. Seniors learn lessons such as how to turn the phone on, what “data” means, and the difference between iOS (iPhone Operating System) and Android, two operating systems used for mobile devices.

At the East Wake Senior Center in Wendell, NC, seniors can sign up for one-on-one classes with Derrick Heffner, the center’s technical advisor. Heffner recalls one senior’s frustration over her Android smartphone. She found it too complicated and wanted something simpler to use. So, Heffner said he recommended that she purchase Jitterbug, an easy-to-use smartphone geared for seniors. The hearing-aid compatible flip phone has large buttons and screen, an urgent response button, and a loud and clear speaker.

In addition to finding a smartphone too complicated, researchers have discovered that seniors who have problems with their hands find it painful to use the device. For instance, one study found that older adults developed fatigued rapidly and tapped more slowly when a smartphone has small buttons. In addition, arthritis, inflammation, and thickening of skin on the fingers can limit hand mobility and cause difficulty in using a smartphone.

Geriatricians advise watching for older adults who once were competent in using a smartphone but no longer use the device. This could be a warning sign of dementia. Seniors stop using their smartphones when they lose their ability to operate them, according to Lon Schneider, a professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Southern California.

Seniors, Smartphones, and Scams

Older adults just can’t seem to get away from scammers who use calls and texts through smartphones to commit fraud. One study found that the average smartphone user gets 3.7 spam calls per day and 1.7 spam texts per day. Because scammers are known to target seniors, 71 percent of the study’s respondents fear their grandparents or older relatives may fall victim to scammers.

Their fears are not unfounded since more than 92,000 victims over the age of 60 reported losses of $1.7 billion in 2021, a 74 percent increase in losses from 2020, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center’s 2021 Elder Fraud Report. At least 13,900 people over 60 lost $237 million in tech support scams, while 7,658 people lost $432 million in romance scams, the highest dollar amount lost for people over 60, the report showed.

Regardless of the pros and cons of smartphones, Bohanan sees smartphones becoming a necessity for seniors just as computers are now a necessity for seniors. Bohanan said when she first came to the center 20 years ago, an estimated 75 percent of older adults who came to the center didn’t even have email. Now, 90 to 95 percent of seniors have email or have a family member that does.

“And they almost all have cell phones now,” Bohanan said.

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