How Technology Is Making Seniors Healthier

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They may not be the iGeneration, but today's seniors are more digitally savvy than ever.

According to the Pew Research Center, the vast majority of Americans – 96% – now own a cellphone of some kind. And 81% of Americans own a smartphone. You may also be surprised to learn that roughly half now own tablet computers.

And this increase in technology ownership is a good thing, says Rosie Curiel Cid, PsyD, a neuropsychologist at the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience and Aging at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

"A lot of service delivery and intervention happens through technology," says Dr. Curiel. "There are a lot of applications that exist that can make [seniors'] lives so much easier and convenient, and can keep them healthy, safe, and independent."

Here are some apps, devices, and services that can make life easier for you.

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Telemedicine

You don't have to drive to a doctor's office if you want to visit a doctor. With telemedicine, or "mobile health," you can speak to a doctor remotely via a video consultation from your phone, tablet, or computer.

"If you're an older adult—and let's say that you're a caregiver to a husband or wife who has Alzheimer's disease, for example—and you can't get away from your caregiving responsibilities, it's extremely helpful for you to receive intervention from your providers while you're sitting at home," says Dr. Curiel.

The American Telemedicine Association estimates that over half of all hospitals in the United States use some form of telemedicine.

Smart Speakers

Voice-activated devices like the Google Home and Amazon Echo can double as something of a personal assistant: "They help older adults be independent and problem solve what they might otherwise need another person for," says Curiel. Smart speakers can be used to program alarms, schedule doctors' appointments, and set medication reminders, but they also provide plenty of other healthy benefits, too.

For example, Amazon's Echo can guide you through a daily meditation therapy, fitness routine, or session of Yoga Nidra ("Yogic Sleep"); Google Home can track your daily steps, tell you how many calories are in a cup of coffee, or help you determine what's triggering your back pain.

Wearables

Activity trackers (like Fitbit, Garmin, or even the Apple Watch) can monitor and record everything from the number of steps you took, to how well you slept, to how fast your heart is beating. "That information can be shared with your doctor, or your adult child who maybe lives across the country," says Dr. Curiel. "This can help a person know whether Mom woke up at her usual time, for example. And if she didn't, maybe she needs a phone call."

They can also help motivate you to be more active, too: "Some people are competitive and like to try and beat their numbers [of steps taken]," she says.

If you do use an activity tracker, Curiel says you should use it to fit your lifestyle. For example, if you can't take 10,000 steps a day right now, that shouldn't stop you from trying to take as many steps as you can. "If someone has obesity or heart disease…10,000 steps might be a very far reaching number," she says. "But you can progressively increase [your step count] depending on your age and usual activity level. It's not a one-size-fits-all in terms of your health goals."

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