Pretty and Practical: A ring that alerts

At first, Ringly struck us as one of those ridiculous person-who-has-everything items: It’s a $200-ish ring that vibrates when you get a call or other mobile message because Heaven forbid you’d take your phone out of your purse. But at second glance, we realized seniors could customize the vibrations to signal reminders of medication times, appointments, and other health alerts. And it’s gorgeous.

Clockwise from top left: Black Onyx, Pink Sapphire, Rainbow Moonstone, Emerald (sold out). Courtesy: Ringly

Clockwise from top left: Black Onyx, Pink Sapphire, Rainbow Moonstone, Emerald (sold out). Courtesy: Ringly

It looks like a high fashion gemstone ring, so even if it’s not used for its intended purpose, it’s a lovely piece of jewelry for those who can afford it. Unlike hearing aids and other obvious medical devices, there’s no reason to worry you’ll “look old,” if you wear it.

It could work well for independent seniors who’ve set health apps and medication alerts on their phones or tablets, as well as for caregivers and long-distance children who need to make sure reminders are received. If you can wear a ring to bed, you can wear Ringly. It’s water-resistant (you can wash your hands with it on), but not fully water-proof, so don’t try to swim with it.

We caution that we don’t know how heavy it is, the designers describe the 14 x 19mm center stone (that’s about ½ by ¾ of an inch) as “approximately the size of an almond.”

The rings are being offered, for now, only in sizes 6, 7 and 8 and cannot be re-sized. Ringly is taking discounted pre-orders at $145-$180, depending on the stone, and planning to ship rings in the fall. Retail prices will be $195 and $260. The company plans to eventually offer different designs, including styles suitable for men. (Men with a bold sense of style may like the currently available black onyx ring.)

Senior Living Facilities Realize Seniors LIKE Technology

One of our frequent themes at Senior Tech Insider is the image vs. reality of the relationship of seniors and technology. Apple’s famous “1984” commercial came out in the eponymous year, which means that even some of today’s oldest seniors would have been young enough to be introduced to Macs and other personal computers on the job.

Yes, even the Apple ad's star, Anya Major, is nearing fifty.

Yes, even the Apple ad’s star, Anya Major, is nearing fifty.

Thirty years later of personal and professional computer use later, they are not terribly happy to find themselves in senior residencies that think all they require is an antiquated computer lab. As trade publication Senior Housing News reports, the access demands of new residents are driving providers to install wi-fi throughout their facilities in order to stay competitive.

In a reflection of how computers are now seen as social access devices, instead of merely business machines, many of the old computer lab spaces are being re-done as Internet cafes, where residences can talk to each other as well as contact their families online.

Nevertheless, while the executives who administer these facilities are trying, they’re still not quite getting it. One source cheerfully reassured SHN, “It’s no longer grandma’s nursing home.”

But that’s the whole point: It’s not the nursing home that’s changed. It’s the grandmas (and grandpas) within it.



Unintended Insights from the documentary Cyber-Seniors

Cyber-Seniors, currently making the rounds of indie cinemas, is a well-meaning documentary by filmmaker Saffron Cassaday that chronicles the efforts of her siblings and their high school classmates to introduce Toronto seniors to the Internet.

It’s a grandchild’s valentine to the grandparent generation, which is both its charm and its flaw. There’s too much condescension to the “cuteness” of seniors; it would have been far better to see more of what the participants felt from their own point-of-view. Still, it ought to be required viewing by anyone designing technology or offering tech tutorials for older seniors.

Some of the awkward unfamiliarity is a bit surprising, when you consider that if you subtract twenty years, all but the very oldest would likely have encountered computers in their workplaces. Nevertheless, aging itself makes even the most basic of computer tasks difficult; for example, we see a 77-year-old flummoxed by double-clicking.

In truth, we take clicking so for granted, we forget that it’s actually a proprioceptive challenge: The brain must determine and signal how much pressure is required to differentiate clicks, further complicated in the old by compensating for arthritic fingers. Unfortunately, proprioception, like other senses, declines with age, so the “simple” act of clicking becomes akin to mastering chords on a guitar. Similarly, reading on a monitor becomes like trying to find a grey cat in a fog.

Watching Cyber-Seniors, you see clearly that navigating the Internet is a double-whammy for the advanced elderly: It requires both understanding new intellectual concepts and mastering novel movements. The cognitive challenges cannot be underestimated: Many of the participants forget not only their passwords, but their security prompts. When asked, “What is your pet’s name?” one nonagenarian replies, “I don’t have a pet anymore.”

As much as it intends to celebrate the efforts of the young volunteers, the documentary also unintentionally demonstrates that generosity and kindness don’t quite make up for lack of preparation. Some of the cognitive load would have been lightened if the volunteers had a practiced script with well-tested procedures. It would have been extremely helpful for the seniors to have a printout with reminders of the basics, from steps to get on the Web to a box to write down passwords.

Yet in one respect, the seniors caught on fast. The filmmakers encouraged them to produce YouTube videos for a clickbait contest (the videos are still online). When one woman’s video is thumbed down, she asks—with just the right tone of shaming–“Who could dislike something so innocuous?”



JIBO: A new world of robot apps?

Despite its record-breaking crowd-sourced funding, it’s hard not to see social robot JIBO as anything but a novelty appliance without a long-term impact. With its retro-future resemblance to a Videosphere, it just feels like something that will be an upscale must have for a year or two and then, along with ice cream makers and rowing machines, become part of the garage sale circuit.

But there is one aspect that could save it from trend oblivion. JIBO isn’t simply a piece of pre-programmed hardware, but a robot with a full-fledged operating system. Developers are invited to create programs for it—and it is in this respect, as perhaps the first device to allow for the popular creation of robot apps, that JIBO may radically change the adoption of robots. In other words, don’t think of it as a more fully featured Roomba, but as an Android or iOS phone in a more responsive form.

Still, that opens another question: Most of the suggested uses for JIBO, such as delivering messages or giving reminders, could be performed by a phone app. There are, however, some unique features that could increase its usefulness and adoption. Its facial recognition software allows it to tell people apart, while its swiveling head allows it to track individuals as they move about a room. While we remain skeptical about its value as a digital companion, these features could allow it to become an excellent telepresence bot for families concerned about relatives who are aging-in-place.

In addition, it can be trained to recognize voices as well as faces. Given that certain conditions, such as Parkinson’s Disease, are initially indicated by changes in voice, we can also foresee custom diagnostic apps that could make JIBO a valuable health-monitoring device.


Telepresence is Priority

The Wall Street Journal asked Marc Agronin, noted geriatric psychiatrist and the author of How We Age: A Doctor’s Journey into the Heart of Growing Old, what piece of technology he thought would be the biggest help to seniors.

His answer was telepresence, which is already implemented in hospitals and is being experimented with in homes. He rightly cautions that the technology must be adapted to those with “sensory deficits. Such adaptations should include voice activation, easily navigated menus, interactive operators, remote troubleshooting, simple keyboards, sophisticated volume controls and projection, and extra large high definition screens.”

Telepresence is a strange little buzzword. When it comes right down to it, we’re talking about a two-way video monitor mounted on a remote-controlled base, and many of the elements Agronin cites already exist. How hard would it be to download Skype onto a tablet, mount it on a toy car controllable over the Net, and create a reasonably useful telepresence bot for under a grand?

Electrical engineer Jon Bennett is half-way there. He’s long had a website that gives detailed instructions for how to build aR remote-controlled car. He agrees it would be possible to, “hack something inexpensive together,” but cautions,  “It wouldn’t get FDA approval and you wouldn’t be able to sell it to anyone.”


Way cheaper than a (real) one of these.

Foregoing the commercial medical market, if you have a background in EE or robotics, and would like to check on elderly relatives and their living conditions, it’s something to think about. As Agronin says, “An entire industry of telepresence volunteers and services could be created to serve the exploding population of aging individuals.” 








Aging in Distance

From the Chinese journal China Media Research comes a new term-of-art to consider: “Aging in Distance.” They’re contrasting “aging in place” with the experience of those who will be aging outside of their home countries, far from their native cultures and immediate families.


They are calling for papers to address the topic in a special issue of the journal to be published early next year. Deadline for abstract submission is July 25, 2014.

“We would welcome papers that enhance our understanding of how age and ageing is perceived in different cultures, what roles the mass media can play in constructing and perpetuating stereotypes about older people, how the formal model of community care can better link with the model of family care to form a culturally appropriate age-care model for immigrants in particular and the larger population in general. Topic areas include, but not limited to, stereotypes of older people; social media and older people; cultural assumptions of ageing and age-care; communication campaigns that enhance understanding between older and younger generations, mass media coverage of older people and audience effects, and cross-cultural adjustment of older migrants.”

Just for starters, we’d say teleprescence should certainly be a candidate topic.

Satellite photo of Earth, courtesy DMSP and NASA