Thumb Extension for Smart Phones

We admit we were tempted to laugh at this clever invention, but then we realized it just might be very useful for seniors suffering from arthritis—or short fingers.

This is a real thing, according to no less than the Wall Street Journal.

Yes, this is a real thing.

We promise we’re not making this up! From gadget-loving Japan comes “Yubi Nobiiru” (finger growth), a prosthesis that looks like a long silicone thimble that you wear over your thumb to extend its reach across large cell phone screens. It’s supposed to be discretely “flesh-toned,” an accurate description if you happen to be a light-orange-skinned android.

What makes it real—and makes it work—is an embedded conductor that works on the principle of capacitance (charges across an electrical field). Our fingers themselves have slight electric charges, which is how they are able to activate the electronics in cell phones and other touchscreen devices. (For details on how this works, see this excellent illustrated overview from The Washington Post.)

Given the super-heroine graphics and the bombastic music in the video, you may find this hard to take seriously, but it’s worth thinking about where engineers could go with artificial skin capacitance. As we age, touch sensitivity can decrease while painful ailments in the hands can increase, so as silly as the Yubi Nobiiru seems, it could be the first of a new class of devices that enable seniors to function in an increasingly touchscreen world.

If you can read Japanese, you can order your own Yubi Nobiiru here.




All that Apple Excitement—What does it mean for Seniors?

We assume that today our readers fall into three groups: Those who’ve already gorged themselves on the news of Apple’s latest iPhone; those who are wondering whether there’s anything in all the hype they should care about, and those who long for a simple phone that just makes calls.

As for what you should care about, the big story is that now you can finally buy an iPhone with a larger screen, either 4.7 inches or 5.5 inches. There’s no question this is a benefit to aging eyes as well as aging hands, since it means the letters on virtual keyboards should be bigger.

Still, we must urge that if you have vision or finger flexibility concerns, you should try out any phone you plan to buy or lease in person. A reviewer’s “lightweight and elegant” may be your version of “heavy and clunky.”

The hardware should determine your choice, because unless you’re a power user, the operating system (OS) that runs your phone is likely to be fairly irrelevant to you. However, if you want to exchange data among multiple devices, such as your phone and your tablet, it will make your life easier to stick to one operating system.

That said, as more and more mobile health applications come online, which OS your phone runs may become increasingly important. Just like with software programs on desktop computers, not all apps are available or can run on all phones, so if you’re devoted to specific apps, you need to pay attention to which phone OS you choose.  For example, Apple’s new iOS8, available on its newly announced phones and downloadable on some of its older models, has a health app that will work in partnership with the Mayo Clinic.Continue Reading

New Device for Falls Assessment

Many seniors have probably taken the “Timed Up and Go” (TUG) test, which involves rising from a chair and walking approximately 10 feet (three meters), turning and walking back, and then sitting again in the chair. According to the CDC, an older adult who takes 12 seconds or more to complete the test is at high risk for falls.

The test is so simple to administer that anyone with a stop-watch could assess the results; the downside is the measure is a relatively crude binary: will fall/won’t fall. Irish healthcare start-up Kinesis Health Technologies is now selling a device that will allow medical providers a fuller understanding of what is happening in their patient’s bodies.

Called QTUG for Quantitative Timed Up and Go, it’s a wireless sensing system that gives an objective measurement of a patient’s mobility by comparing it to the norm for persons of the same age and gender. Most importantly, the stored information could be used to compare deterioration in the patient’s own balance and gait over time.

For a patient, the only change from a standard TUG is that before you take the test, small wireless sensors are strapped to your shins. Via Bluetooth, they transmit specific details of your walk, such as shifts in weight and speed, to a tablet computer equipped with read by your medical provider.

The QTUG system. Image courtesy: Kinesis Health Technologies

The QTUG system, courtesy: Kinesis Health Technologies. Click on the image to expand.

For more information on falls and fall prevention, see the CDC’s STEADI (Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths & Injuries) toolkit, which has downloadable resources for medical providers that can also be of interest to seniors and their families.


AARP’s RealPad–Yes? No? Maybe?

This afternoon at AARP’s Ideas@50+ conference in San Diego, we were able to test AARP’s just announced “RealPad” tablet, a low-cost tablet customized for technophobic seniors. By the time we got home, it was already being denounced by Internet commentators.

aarp-tablet-front-croppedHere’s the bad news they all pounced on: While it is cheaply priced at $189, if you shop around you can find a tablet with similar specs for the same or even less money.

Here’s the good news they all ignored: It comes with free 24/7 live operator tech support, which AARP promises us is provided by an American customer service company.

It has three other features that make it worth considering:

  • A clean and comprehensible interface with large icons.
  • Built-in video tutorials and easy-to-follow documentation. We did not see either, so we can’t verify this, but their claim is that they can get nearly anyone up and running just by watching the videos, which offer step-by-step instructions.
  • The “RealQuickFix” button that can diagnose and fix most tablet problems with just one fix. The tablet will also automatically scan and alert if untrusted software is present.

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