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Technology And The Elderly

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Technology And The Elderly

Technology And The Elderly

Technology And The Elderly

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Omar Gallaga, technology-culture reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, discusses new technology geared toward seniors: virtual doctor's visits and robots helping Japan's elderly population.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

I'm joined once again by Omar Gallaga. He covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman. Welcome back, Omar.

Mr. OMAR GALLAGA (Austin American-Statesman): Hi, Michele. Thanks for having me.

NORRIS: It was fun listening to that segment. I was imagining how the folks there in the tournament, how they created those little Miis, what they probably look like, because you can create them so that you have grey hair and probably even sensible shoes.

Mr. GALLAGA: Yeah. And, you know, it got me thinking about what Nintendo has been doing the last couple of years. They've got this brain-age series of games that are meant to kind of combat Alzheimer and dementia, kind of keep the brain agile, on both the Wii and the portable Nintendo DS system. So, Nintendo has definitely, like, kind of been leading the way, at least in the gaming world of these kind of games marketed toward an older, kind of unexpected audience. And they've really embrace them.

NORRIS: Well, you say it's an unexpected audience, I mean, when we think about new technology, we're usually thinking about all the hipsters who sort of ride the technological wave, but what kinds of things are these companies doing to try to capture this mature audience?

Mr. GALLAGA: Yeah, exactly. Apart from Nintendo, there is lots of products now being targeted at these older audiences. And a lot of it is just simplifying technology. There is a cell phone now called the Jitterbug, which actually has larger buttons and a larger screen and is meant for this older audience that maybe doesn't want an iPhone or a BlackBerry or something that seems much too complicated to deal with. So we're seeing kind of some technologies being simplified. There is also a printer called Presto that doesn't require a computer. It just hooks up to a phone line and you can download emails and print photos from relatives. So, it would be something where, you know, if you have older relatives who maybe don't want to deal with a computer or a laptop, you would set this up for them and then you people just send them things and they would only have to use this one device. This year, CES, in January, we definitely saw a lot more of that, of sort of widening the spectrum of who tech products are meant for.

NORRIS: And for us civilians, remind us: What is CES?

Mr. GALLAGA: The Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, where a lot of the big tech companies roll out their wares every year. And in January, we definitely saw a kind of move toward more products aimed at younger audiences and products aimed at much older audiences, whereas we normally associate the kind of tech products with, you know, 20 and 30-year-olds.

NORRIS: You know, if you have an aging parent who happens to live very far away, are they also finding new ways to update home monitoring or health and safety systems?

Mr. GALLAGA: Yes, that's been a really big area. I mean, companies like Intel and GE are investing in this and what's happening is there is a lot of low-cost technology that can be used in these new and innovative ways, like low-cost sensors that can be put into clothing and into carpets to detect when someone has fallen in a home, maybe if they're living by themselves.

There are sensors that can help monitor health signs. So, we're seeing a lot of that stuff kind of deployed and when you couple that wireless technology, with broadband, I mean, we're able to get a lot of that stuff real time. I think that's just going to become more and more widespread, where we have this real-time information being fed from people that maybe would not be able to get to a phone or not be able to communicate with a doctor regularly.

And there's lot of interesting stuff coming out Japan too with robots. There's a device called hybrid assisted limb, or HAL, if that doesn't sound too scary, that actually helps people get up. It's like a - almost like a exo-suit that you put on and can help someone get up out of a chair.

So, a lot of interesting stuff out of Japan, robot companions that would be able to, you know, dispense medicines or help with things around the house. So, yeah, I think companies are seeing, definitely, a big opportunity, especially as the boomer market continues to age.

NORRIS: Did you say that robot was named HAL? That was the name of the robot in �2001: A Space Odyssey.�

Mr. GALLAGA: Yeah, yeah. Unfortunate, unfortunate name there.

NORRIS: Or just a coincidence, maybe. I don't know.

Mr. GALLAGA: Hybrid assisted limb, I think, sounds a lot nicer.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GALLAGA: It sounds a little bit more - less like it's going to kill you.

Mr. GALLAGA: Omar, it's always good to talk to you.

Mr. GALLAGA: Thanks for having me. And we'll of course have links to all of these devices and new stories on the All Tech Considered blog at npr.org.alltech.

NORRIS: That's Omar Gallaga. He covers technology culture for the Austin American-Statesman and for us at All Tech Considered.

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