The President’s Shameful Health Proposal
Susan Harris Reviews Venus

Cool Gadgets For Elders

More and more frequently, some good ideas helpful to elders are turning up in everyday products. Steve Garfield, son of Millie of My Mom’s Blog, recently reminded me of the Jitterbug phone.

It not a camera, it doesn't surf the web nor does it alert you when a hot chick or guy is in your vicinity and it doesn't do txt msgs. What it does do is just be a telephone – it sends and receives calls – but with these elder advantages:

  • Big buttons
  • Bright, large screen
  • Simple yes/no buttons
  • Operator assistance
  • Large text
  • On-screen hints
  • Hearing aid compatible
  • Speakerphone

…and a bunch of other features. Of course, it is only available if you subscribe to the Jitterbug service, but it can be had for a low as $10 a month. This is a terrific elder product.

Automobiles are becoming more elder friendly too. The Northwest Herald reports that five models have added features to make driving easier for older people (although folks of any age could appreciate these :

  • Keyless ignition
  • Rear backup sensors
  • Heated drivers seat
  • Voice-controlled heating/cooling system
  • Buttonless shifters
  • Roomy interior
  • Rear backup camera
  • …and more

Not every feature is available on every model of car and the big thing I see missing is seats that rotate outward to make entering and exiting easier, but I’ll bet that’s coming soon.

The items above (and some others) are available on 2006 models of the Toyota Avalon, Prius and Sienna, the Ford Five Hundred and BMW 7 Series, but they are undoubtedly being incorporated in 2007 and future models.

What products or innovations have you discovered that make life better, safer, easier for elders and other people too?


Interestly, this column caused me quite a bit of discomfort. I am a 70 year old woman, fairly healthy, working vigorously with younger women to end violence against women,and long concerned about ageism and any other system of thought that marginalizes any group or individual.
It may be my internalized ageism speaking, but the Jitterbug Phone offends me: 1) The Name, as though we are rooted/identified in a dance of our youth; 2) The features, which might be great for anyone, including people of any age who have seeing, hearing, movement disabilities; 3)I don't want a big button phone or any item which is marketed specifically to Elders. I want a large variety of diverse products from which I can choose what works best for me - not what some (probably much younger) product developer decides will be "jazzy" for me.
Thanks for the topic and discussion.

I once worked as a part time companion for an independent 96-year-old woman. I never realized the many inconveniences there are in life for elder citizens! Two important things I learned...the less buttons on clothes, the better. And, even easy-open pill bottles are next-to-impossible for arthritic fingers to's better to store them in a small jar with a lid they can twist to the tightness they can deal with. And label them with script they can read!!!

Oh, the seats that rotate out! I've seen the difficulty my elderly relatives have had getting in and out of a car. When my 82-year-old father and 88-year-old aunt get in my car, I have to shake my head at the inconvenience.

Seats that rotate out would be nice for a lot of people but they would make me a bit nervous too. There was a very early (mid-80s) model of the Ford Escort where the driver's and passenger's seat could have some part let go and tip back - like, the seat part itself (where your bottom is) could tilt as well. I'd think that would be very dangerous, especially if the driver's did it. The more moving, latching, and unlatching parts in a seat, the easier such a problem seems to me, and swivelling while driving would probably be bad too.

Neat idea, I'm just worried about what happens if someone makes an engineering mistake while implementing it....

I especially like the Jitterbug phone (except for its deliberately dated "beat me, daddy, eight to the bar" name) and wish we had one for my mother-in-law. We've managed to equip her with a flip phone so that her purse has stopped making speed-dial calls (she never could remember to lock the keyboard on her "ice cream bar" phone).

Of course, the thing has dozens of features she doesn't use or care about, such a camera and web surfing capability, but it came free with the family plan in which we include her. She does occasionally use the phone to make a call, but the thing isn't elder-friendly--and it could be so easily if cell service providers really cared.

What an interesting comment Judith brings up. In our effort to make things more "elder friendly" we continue or our track of "elder" segregation.

On the idea of making car seats more accessible to those with physical needs (elder or not) what about leaving the seat alone and having a bar stool swivel type attachment that could easily be detached? I don't know...I'm just thinking out loud.

When I was having trouble seeing due to developing cataracts (in my forties), I really liked books on tape - well now it would be podcasts and books on CD I suppose. I still like to listen to spoken word CDs sometimes on long trips.

GPS systems in cars are great for all ages too, not just elders, especially when traveling.

I live a very simple life without either a car or a cell phone, so I won't be 'jitterbugging' (yes, whatever bright spark thought up that silly name?) or worrying about how to get out of my car seat. But I wanted to mention a simple, anti-consumerist solution to the swivelling problem. A friend who'd had a hip replacement and had to swivel in and out of her car just put a large plastic bag on the seat. That made swivelling very easy and didn't cost her a cent. And a 90-year-old relative of mine uses the same method quite successfully.

I suppose the Jitterbug phone would help the mildly hearing impaired user, but there are already phones that assist the hearing impaired. The phones I have used as my hearing loss progressed are: a Princess phone with amplification, a desk phone with stronger amplification in the receiver, a speaker phone, a Big Button phone (which would be helpful for the visually impaired but it did nothing for me), and a Crystal Tone phone with both volume and tone controls and finally a VCO phone that is used through a Relay Operator allowing me to read what the caller is saying while allowing them to hear me. My point being is that there are already a lot of phones to assist the hearing impaired. There are even amplified cell and cordless phones.
Incidentally, I, too, hate the name "Jitterbug"; I find it inappropriate.

I hope the conversation has not moved too far along. I am 49. I am also a technology teacher, a former corporate tech trainer and former computer programmer. I like the jitterbug phone and want one. The current cell phones are too feature laden for anyone. They are annoying to use unless you are a teenager. My 16 year old daughter loves them. I know lots of "younger" adults who would be happy with a jitterbug. I know we are all supposed to love technology, and I am probably the only luddite techie alive, but whenever I express these sentiments, the most unlikely people confess to a secret wish to simplify.
The name is silly, but you can't have everything.

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