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Technology Connects, Protects Seniors

Products for an aging -- but plugged-in -- population address brain fitness, social networking, personal monitoring, and the concerns of caregivers.

Technology emerged as a major theme in the 2010 Aging in America conference in Chicago from March 15-18, the largest annual national gathering of senior service providers.

Products displayed at this year's event, and at the follow up Boomer Business Summit on March 19, reflect advancements in the fields of brain fitness, social networking, home monitoring, and caregiving.

Perhaps the greatest fear related to aging is loss of cognitive abilities. Studies suggest that seniors who consistently participate in mentally stimulating leisure activities maintain higher levels of intellectual ability and significantly reduce the risk of dementia.

Dakim, one of the industry's leading providers of turnkey hardware/software solutions for brain fitness exercises at senior facilities has announced a new software-based product for home use. According to Charles Roberson, regional vice president for Dakim, the new BrainFitness software shipping this spring is superior to typical stimulating activities such as crossword puzzles or Sudoku because it cross-trains the brain in six cognitive dimensions. These include: long and short-term memory, language, computation, visual spatial orientation and critical thinking.

The program also tracks and adjusts to the senior’s level of mental ability in each cognitive area independently, thereby keeping the activity both fun and engaging so it will be used long-term. The CD-based product is listed for $349 and requires the user to have only minimal experience with a traditional PC or Mac interface.

For those seniors totally lacking confidence in the use of a computer, but interested in using one for e-mail or surfing the Web, there is the MyGait GO Computer, offered by FirstStreet. GO presents an elegant, out-of-the-box hardware/software solution, using a thin client, cloud-based paradigm.

For an initial cost of $879 and $19.95 per month, the company supplies a 19-inch LCD screen, senior-friendly keyboard (with function keys color-coded and clearly labeled) and a trackball/mouse ergonomically designed to be easy for seniors to manipulate.

In addition to maintaining the hardware, GO presents a simple interface through which seniors can access the Internet, use mail, play games, and perform other online tasks. Perhaps most important is the Help Line with support services that may be summoned by pressing "the green key labeled Enter." Anyone who has tried to introduce computer novice parents or grandparents to the potential of new technology can testify that this level of full support may be the key to enabling a successful venture into the online experience.

Social engagement is the theme of MyWay Village Connected Living. By integrating a set of typical features available through the Internet, such as e-mail, calendaring, and photo management with other forms of engagement tailored specifically to seniors such as memoir creation, the company has developed a true senior portal.

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