“We have a shortage of workers,” says Ginna Baik, a California-based expert on tech solutions for seniors. “What’s going to fill the gap? Technology has to. We don’t have enough people.”
Devices to enlarge print. Pill dispensers that can send a text if medication isn’t taken. Canes equipped with sonar to alert the user to obstacles.
Assistive technology for the elderly has come a long way since clap-on, clap-off lighting.
“You can live a more independent life if you can find the right technology to support you,” said Ginna Baik, a California-based expert on tech solutions for seniors.
She and other panelists offered a technological primer — and pep talk — to more than 200 people this week during a program at the McConnell Arts Center in Worthington. The event, sponsored by National Church Residences, AARP Ohio and the city of Worthington, aimed to promote technology as part of the answer for seniors who want to remain in their homes and communities, and reduce reliance on caregivers.
“We have a shortage of workers,” Baik told the audience. “What’s going to fill the gap? Technology has to. We don’t have enough people.”
Speakers described many of the available devices and services, from Amazon Alexa and other voice-command options to the vast array of items available through Assistive Technology of Ohio at Ohio State University’s research center at 1314 Kinnear Road offers hundreds of devices for demonstration and for check-out, allowing seniors to try a device before purchasing.
Bill Darling, the center’s executive director, said seniors tend not to think of themselves as part of the disability community, and thus might not explore the difference that assistive technology can make in their day-to-day lives. The center can help with solutions as complex as speech-generating computers or as simple as sensors for appliances.
“You can walk into the world of disability technology,” Darling said. “We have hundreds of devices. It’s an amazing resource right here in central Ohio.”
All of the panelists, including a tech-savvy older couple, urged seniors not to be afraid of trying a new gadget. Studies have found that frustration is one of the biggest barriers in getting older adults to embrace technology.
Blacklick resident Mark Heigh, 76, said one key is not to worry about mistakes. “There’s almost nothing you can do that can’t be undone,” he said.
His wife, Kay Heigh, also 76, said her smartphone is “almost like a third hand now.”
When in doubt, she recommends asking a grandkid. “They know all the latest things, and they’re good teachers.”
Researchers say the number of central Ohioans age 65 or older will double in the next 35 years, while the number of available caregivers continues to dwindle. That mirrors national trends: About 10,000 people hit the age of 70 every day in the United States.
The city of Worthington already has one of the highest senior populations in the area. Worthington City Council member Beth Kowalczyk, chief policy officer for the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging, said the city is pursuing a plan to make Worthington as age-friendly as possible.
“It’s looking at all sorts of things through the lens of aging,” she said. That might mean developing different approaches to Uber or Lyft apps, or making sure crosswalk lights flash long enough.
Worthington residents Nolan and Rita Rindfleisch — he’s 92 and she is 88 — are doing all they can to remain in their home. They’re open to assistive technology, but also say it’s important for communities and families to remember that seniors sometimes just need an extra pair of hands (or feet).
“How do I get my gutters cleaned if I can’t climb a ladder?” Rita Rindfleisch said. “If it snows, we might not be able to shovel the drive.”
Such considerations aren’t just niceties, she said. Knowing those needs will be met could prompt more Ohio seniors to stay home instead of heading south for the winter, taking their economic activity with them.
In the meantime, Rindfleisch said, she continues to explore tech and online activities. “I use an iPad; I use a smartphone; I’m on Facebook,” she said. “We haven’t quite worked up to Alexa yet.”
And her husband, she likes to note, still plays on a softball team.