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An assistive technology device is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities. Assistive technology services include the evaluation of need, the process of acquiring the device, fitting or customizing the device, coordinating the intervention plan, and providing training and technical support to the user and related support personnel (AOTA).

Smartphones

As of this writing, the two most popular options are iPhone and Android. In the case of purchasing new, the most likely deciding factor between the two products will likely be cost.

iPhoneAndroidComments
CostMore expensiveGenerally, less expensiveiPhones tend to hold their value much more than android.
Consider buying second hand for either product such as on eBay.
SupportIn-store support at Apple StoreNo in-store supportOlder adults can schedule an appointment at an Apple store to troubleshoot technical problems. Variations in the graphical interface of Android can make troubleshooting more difficult.

A solution for Android is to install remote access software such as Teamviewer to allow family members to remotely view/troubleshoot phones

Ease of useOne ecosystem and easy overall usabilityMay require more customization to reduce bloatware, distracting featuresAlthough the iPhone is simpler to use out of the box, Android offers much more customizability such as changing the Launcher to more older adult friendlier interfaces
Security– Closed ecosystem
– Updated regularly
– Longer device support
– “Fragmented” operating systems from various vendors
– Longer wait times for updates and patches
– Shorter device life support
IOS is likely more secure due to its less fragmented system which allows more frequent security patches.
Accessibility FeaturesYesYesBoth devices offer great accessibility options for various configurations

General Useful Tweaks

Due to regular updates to both iPhone and Android operating systems, an entire website could be made for each version and variation of phone models. Here are some general tips based on the universal design principle 4: simple and intuitive to use.

Most phones, including iPhone and Android, offer Accessibility features buried in the Settings. Chances are, you may have used some before, such as the On screen Home button to replace your broken physical Home button. The following is a list of most common features that may benefit the user.

Please do not enable them all. Customize the device to the user’s needs!

Tip: Enter ‘accessibility’ into the Search function (magnifying glass icon) of your device to gain access to the menu.

Accessibility Settings

VisibilityHearingTouch/TactileInteraction/Dexterity
  • Increase brightness (disable auto-brightness)
  • Enable display zoom
  • Use easier to read fonts
  • Enable larger fonts
  • Increase contrast
  • Remove animations
  • Enable magnification
  • Enable camera flash when phone rings
  • Increase ringer, system volume
  • Enable hearing aid support
  • Enable subtitles (CC)
  • Enable text-to-speech
  • Increase vibration intensity
  • Enable haptic feedback, increase its intensity
  • Decrease unused home button alternate features such as voice assistants if unused, e.g. Siri
  • Enable assistant/on screen menu
  • Use physical buttons to answer/end calls
  • Increase delay times for functions, e.g. double-pressing time
  • Enter important contacts into Favorites of Phone Dialer
  • Educate on use of Voice Assistance to place calls

You may also consider:

  1. Enabling Find My Phone features to locate user, e.g. Dementia
  2. Setting up medical ID information in case of emergencies (allergies, blood type, conditions, contacts)
  3. Enabling SOS button which can alert EMS or specific family members

Proprietary Products

Life Alert, Medical Guardian, Mobile Help etc.

Battery life depends on the system, often better than Smartphones which require daily charging.
One great feature of these devices is the ability to detect falls and alert EMS.

Pros: Easy to use, Reliable, Good support, Can be worn around neck/watch/belt holster/etc.
Cons: Monthly cost (~$30/month), Additional costs for GPS tracking, activation fees, cancellation fees, commitments. Coverage may depend on network providers.

 

Other Medical Alert Systems (No contract)

Available online such as Amazon.com, enter ‘medical alert system’ into Search

Pros: No monthly charges, Keep the equipment
Cons: Higher upfront cost (~$150+), may have lower signal range, more product various (e.g. cheaper manufacturing), likely no warranty or customer support. Fully test the system around the house before deploying for production use with family members or recommending to patients.

Smartwatches

Apple Watch

Pros: Can be used stand alone with the mobile plan to place calls; SOS features, fall detection, health sensors that can heart rate, detect cardiac abnormalities (should not be used in place of medical care or advice)

Cons: Cost, requires frequent charging (cognitive-memory considerations) if used as a safety device, small screen, learning curve

Medical Guardian Freedom

  • Advanced location tracking
  • Reminders & alerts
  • Text-to-speech
  • Oversized icons
  • SIM chip for cellular service (emergency assistance)
  • Audible features
  • Weather forecast
  • Companion apps for family members

MobileHelp Smart

“A discreet medical alert solution you’ll want to wear: Feel safe, secure and empowered to live life to the fullest with 100% U.S.-Based Emergency Monitoring from the most trusted name in the industry.”

SmartHome

IoT (Internet of things) devices are becoming more popular and are becoming a great piece of technology for Older Adults to maintain their independence and to give family members peace of mind.

  • Voice Assistants: Amazon Echo (Alexa), Google Home, Apple HomePod
  • Video Cameras: Arlo, Nest, Ring
  • Accessories:
    • On/off switches: lights, fans, appliances
    • Open/close & vibration sensors: Doors, windows, gates, garage doors
    • Motion sensors: check for activity in a household
    • Presence sensors: home vs. outside
    • Smoke/carbon monoxide detectors: fires
    • Other sensors: water sensors
    • Alarms (visual and audible): for convenience or warning alerts
    • HVAC control: heating and cooling (hyperthermia, heat stroke)
    • Timers & Routines: can be set to  programmed to automatically shut off devices or behave based on pre-set parameters
    • much more are being developed every day

Schlage Camelot – allows you to unlock the door without a key. Remotely lock the door from anywhere in the world with your Smartphone. Also features a Tamper Alarm that alerts to an intruder.
When paired with a speaker/siren, you can be alerted by sound when the door is opened, e.g. in the middle of the night by a family member with Dementia.

Stand alone, it can even alert you on your phone when the door is opened. While you can pair most Smarthome devices with just your voice assistant, e.g. Amazon Echo/Alexa, alone, you can achieve more functionality with a smart home hub.

My recommendation is pairing this device with Smartthings Hub due to its versatility and ability to accept almost any Smarthome accessory listed above, and those on the market. It is the most “open” in terms of ecosystem compared to other hubs.

This device allows you to make custom presets, e.g. If “front door” is “left open” for “5 minutes” “after 8 pm” when “grandpa” is “home”, “send an SMS to # with the message: front door open”.

Each variable in quotes (” “) can be customized.

There is a small learning curve, but plenty of tutorials on Youtube and the Internet. Overall, it is very intuitive for anyone who is familiar with Smart Apps. It will be tricky for older adults to set-up, however. The newest version features a back-up battery in case of power outages.

Out of the box, Smartthings allows you to turn your Smartphone into a Presence Device. This allows a family member with the App installed to notify you when they are home/not home. Even more powerful, is the ability for the Smartphone acting as a Presence Sensor to invoke actions.

An example of a routine that can be set-up is: When “family member” “leaves home” and “no one else is home”, “turn off: lights, switches (e.g. linked to a convection oven), turn off the AC, lock the door, and close garage door (if open). Installation and configuration of Smarthome devices are beyond the scope of this post.

I may write up a detailed post on this if there is enough interest.

“Low” Tech

  • Bells
  • Doorbells with switches inside house
  • Baby monitors
  • Clapper switches

*These products are not endorsed by the companies and are mentioned as examples based on personal experience/research. Conduct your own research prior to purchasing and subscribing.