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Senior-Friendly Technology Trends at Consumer Electronics Show

Senior-Friendly Technology Trends at Consumer Electronics Show

Residents at Greenspring retirement community in Springfield, Va., have formed a bowling league based on the Nintendo Wii video game system.

Edward C. Baig, USA Today

•Keeping mind and body sharp. Microsoft’s HealthVault and Google’s Google Health provide free online repositories for personal health information (patient records, medicines, etc.). Patients get to decide with whom to share the information.

Prescription info might be imported from the pharmacy, or data can be uploaded from blood pressure cuffs, heart rate monitors and so forth. Google Health lets patients tap into third-party resources such as the Cleveland Clinic or TrialX.org (for finding clinical trials based on personal health information).

“This is a brand-new area. We don’t know exactly how to get it right,” says Roni Zeiger, a Google Health product manager and physician. Indeed, both the Google and Microsoft sites are still in beta, or test mode.

The $199 EmWave Personal Stress Reliever from HeartMath is an iPod-size monitoring tool that uses colored lights to give real-time feedback on the stress in your body. More important, says CEO Bruce Cryer, is that you learn how to get yourself into a more stress-free zone. “The core science behind it is very solid,” Cryer says of the 2-year-old product. “Our business even in a down economic year is growing.”

Dakim’s Brain Fitness system is meant to combat dementia through challenging and fun memory games and other cognitive exercises. The $6,000 touch-screen, Linux-based computer appliance was sold initially to senior-living providers, with a $1,200 yearly fee for up to 20 users. But a $2,500 home version is coming (with a $600 yearly fee for two users). The machine runs the company’s proprietary customizable software but is not a regular PC. In one game, seniors are asked what they remember from movie clips shown from the 1930s and 1940s.

One of the most intriguing technologies comes from Proteus Biomedical in Redwood City, Calif. The company can add an ingestible microchip to a capsule or tablet, without altering the medicine. It’s made of food ingredients.

When you swallow the pill, it becomes electronically active and can send a signal through your body that looks like an EKG. It can be detected by a special, small bandage that might transmit data to a cellphone. Qualcomm is helping connect the special bandage to 3G phone networks. Caregivers or relatives will know when and what pills patients have taken or if the patients failed to take their medications.

The technology is in human trials. “We believe we have figured out a way for us to bring this to market with a wide variety of pharmaceutical products,” perhaps by 2011 or 2012, says Proteus CEO Andy Thompson. Cost: fractions of a penny per pill.

Keeping it simple

While many Baby Boomers have grown comfortable in the digital age, the same cannot always be said of their elderly parents. Just 43% of seventysomethings surveyed by Compete and the Consumer Electronics Association expect to purchase consumer electronics over the next 12 months, compared with 66% of those 18 to 34.

And only 8% of those in their 70s said they used a social-networking site in the week before they were asked, compared with 51% of those 18 to 34.

There’s another reality: Even elders fluent in bits and bytes inevitably find it more difficult to hear or to see as they get older. And people in their 50s and 60s are more put off by products with too many features, buttons that are too small or confusing terminology, according to the CEA/Compete study.

Ferndale, Mich., start-up Myine Electronics is focusing on products with fewer features. "Our motto is. ‘Less is more,’ " says founder Jake Sigal, inventor of the USB turntable.

At the Silvers Summit, Sigal showed off one of his latest inventions, a kind of TiVo for radio called the Abbee Commercial-Free FM radio. The $250 machine promises to record FM radio while automatically removing commercials and deejay chatter.

© YellowBrix 2008

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