Savvy senior gizmos
June 6, 2000: 8:17 a.m. ET

Get online and into shape easier with these specially designed products
By Staff Writer Jennifer Karchmer
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NEW YORK (CNNfn) - The numbers on the telephone pad seem to be shrinking. And you just don't hear the teakettle whistle anymore. Maybe your arthritis is so crippling you can't even use the computer mouse to make those online purchases.

You and millions of older Americans don't want to be held back by your ailments, but it seems everyday appliances are getting harder to use.

As the nation's population ages, a variety of products is popping up to make life easier for seniors -- whether it's sending e-mail to grandkids or hearing the alarm clock ring in the morning.

"There's been a stigma out there because of these types of products for seniors, but they're getting into the mainstream as Baby Boomers age or they buy them for their parents," said Tricia Selby, program consultant with AARP in Washington, D.C. "And Baby Boomers realize they don't have the same functions they did even in their in 20s and 30s."

You've got mail!

Older Americans -- who are more likely not to be plugged into the Internet -- look forward to corresponding with relatives, especially grandkids, according to Brian Deutsch, co-founder, CEO and president of, an online community for seniors.

Click here for AARP's list of tools for seniors!

So Deutsch is marketing computer products specially designed for older folks that help them do the same functions their younger relatives are conducting online.

graphic"We found seniors want to do everything else anyone does online and on the computer," Deutsch said. "They want to scan photos, use Java pages, access the Internet, and receive e-mail with attachments."

Of the 60 million Americans who are 55 and older, 11 million use computers, according to Deutsch said many more could be online, but they're afraid of the technology and don't even consider using a computer.

Because the standard computer mouse is awkward for people with arthritis to use, began marketing a large trackball that's easier.

In addition, Deutsch markets a keyboard with one-touch keys that can be programmed to send the user to favorite online links, such as a Web page to order prescription drugs or the person's family address book to send e-mail.

"We will market this by building brand (name) with seniors by rolling it out to senior living centers," he said. Merrill Gardens, a community in Bellevue, Wash., is home to such computers.

Deutsch expects consumers to be able to purchase the specially designed computer with easier-to-read monitor in retail stores nationwide early next year.

Seniors want to use a computer to:

  • write e-mails
  • shop online
  • play games
  • find travel/vacation information
  • update their stock portfolios
  • get financial information


Sweatin' to the oldies

When older Americans aren't shopping online, they're sweating' in the aerobics classes or pumping iron.

Industry experts say that as people live longer, they're fitting exercise into their daily routine to fight diabetes, heart condition, arthritis, asthma or osteoporosis, as well as to promote their general well-being. So it makes sense that the fitness industry is noticing by creating special equipment for these less-nimble folks.

In a $10.6 billion fitness industry, seniors make up about 16% of health club memberships, according to the fitness industry group International Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association (IHRSA). Exact sums spent by seniors on exercising are not readily available, since that data hasn't been collected, but the fastest-growing group joining gyms is people age 55 or older.

Fitness equipment maker NuStep, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., is targeting that market with a recumbent bike that was originally designed for use in cardiac rehabilitation centers.

It has become popular among seniors both in gyms and at home mostly because of the large, swivel seat, said Steve Sarns, sales and marketing director with NuStep. The user feels more secure since he or she can climb onto it easier than the traditional stationary bike seen in most gyms.

Click here to read about special exercise for older Americans!

"The clubs are finally waking up to promote to the older population," Sarns said. "The health industry has been for the young and beautiful, but the boomer population is older and seniors are living longer, healthier lives and they need to exercise."

Conveniences around the home

Your eyesight is starting to fail and your hearing isn't as sharp as it used to be. You don't have to be inconvenienced in your own home despite these woes.

In the booklet, "Tools and Gadgets for Independent Living," AARP lists a variety of products that make life easier -- and safer.

The talking alarm is like most bedside clocks that run on batteries, but if your eyesight is a little fuzzy, you can hit a button and clock speaks the time. Or you can program it to tell you the time each hour.

graphicThese functions are also available for wrist-watches.

You figured out how to turn up the volume on the earpiece on your telephone, but dialing the numbers is always tricky because those numbers are so tiny or rubbed off.

Try out a phone that allows you to paste a photo of each of your frequently called family members and friends so you don't have to remember memory codes or dial. Just press their photo and you'll be connected.

Finally, you don't want to worry about not hearing the smoke alarms you installed throughout your home. If you have trouble hearing, you can install a special strobe-like flashing light to each alarm to signal when the unit has sounded.

"I think a lot of manufacturers are cluing into making these products that are universal," AARP's Selby said. "Some people think it creates a stigma if it's for older people only or disabled people."

Cost and choice depend on your specific needs. AARP recommends you check with your health insurance provider to see if it covers the cost of these products. Back to top

-- Staff Writer Jennifer Karchmer covers senior living news for Click here to send e-mail to her about this story.


Price revamp for Medicare? - May 30, 2000

Senior travel scams - May 15, 2000

Seniors' home makeovers - May 9, 2000

Seniors give the gift of time - March 6, 2000

  RELATED SITES -- online community for seniors

AARP's Internet guide for seniors

AARP writes about on-line shopping

How to get computer technical support

Click here for AARP's tech news!

AARP's tools and gadgets for independent living's senior living news

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