Gadgets for Geezers?

Category: Gadgets

The bad news is, we’re all getting older. The good news is, we are not getting older alone. That makes older folks a market whose needs can’t be ignored. This has inspired a broad spectrum of “assistive technology” that make computing, Web surfing, and enjoying digital media easier. Here are some of the best options...

Assistive Tech for Savvy Seniors

In 2011, 40 million Americans were age 65 or older; today, that figure is 76.4 million, according to the U. S. Census Bureau. The ranks of the “oldest old” – aged 85 or older – will swell to 19 million by 2050.

But age has nothing to do with curiousity -- most of today's senior citizens have had access to computers, the Internet and mobile gadgets for 20 years, and they've made technology a part of their daily lives. (My 86-year-old father has a desktop PC, an iPad, and an Android smartphone.)

VISION AIDS

Visual acuity naturally declines with age. Diseases such as cataracts, glaucoma, and macular degeneration are common among seniors. Bigger computer monitors are one adaptation that can help. (Recently I've seen 23-inch monitors on sale at Best Buy for as low as $129.)
Large Print Keyboard

But there are a variety of other gadgets and computer peripherals that can be used to make things bigger or easier to see.

The AbleNet Large Print USB Computer Keyboard ($39.95 at Amazon) fills each key with its character(s), making the characters about twice as large as those on a standard keyboard. Yet overall, the keyboard is the same size as a standard 104-key keyboard.

Similarly, the EZ Eyes Large Print Keyboard ($9.75 at Amazon) adds a high-contrast black-on-yellow color scheme to larger characters.

The Big Bright Keyboard ($24.24 at Amazon) has extra-large, 1-inch keys that glow in the dark, and big black characters.

Big Bright Keyboard

Perhaps the most flexible option is the Ivation Seven Color Adjustable Letter Illuminated Large Print Keyboard ($29.95). Its keys are backlit by gently glowing LED bulbs, and you can adjust them to any of seven colors.

On Windows, hold down the Ctrl button and spin the scroll wheel on your mouse to enlarge or reduce the font size on your screen. If you don't have a scroll wheel, try Ctrl with the Plus (+) or Minus (-) sign.

Windows Vista and later editions include an "Ease of Access Center" that offers both Magnifier and Narrator tools, which will magnify portions of the screen, and/or read the text aloud. Click the Start button, type "Ease of Access" and press Enter to find it.

On a Mac, click the Apple key, then System Preferences, then Universal Access to find similar features.

If you love your current keyboard and can’t bear to part with it, you might try Glowing Fluorescent Large Lettering Keyboard Stickers ($7.80 at Amazon) made of self-adhesive vinyl here in the U. S. A.

Reading newspapers, prescription drug patient information inserts, or just about anything printed on paper these days can be challenging even for 20/20 vision. The MagniPros® Book Light LED Magnifier ($10.99 at Amazon) enlarges tiny text 300%, and its ultra-thin frame harbors three LED bulbs for dim lighting conditions (batteries included). It doubles as a bookmark.

The Fulcrum 20072-401 Magnifier 12 LED Floor Lamp ($79.99 at Amazon) has a 5-inch diameter lens with 2x magnification for reading and a 6x inset for detailed work such as cross-stitch or jewelry making.

Fulcrum Mag Lamp

I was struck by the review from “Betts” who bought this lamp for her 86 year-old mother in 2009. Never before have I seen a consumer update her product review three times over the course of five years! Betts last update, in September, 2014: “This light is like the ever-ready bunny. It keeps ticking along. Mom, now 91, continues to use the light every day.”

Those who are blind or vision-impaired may be interested in NVDA (NonVisual Desktop Access), a free screen reader for Windows that is available in 43 languages. It can even convert text on the screen to braille, if the user has the appropriate hardware.

MOTOR CONTROL

Some seniors suffer diminished fine motor control due to arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and other causes. Using a laptop’s touchpad can be extremely frustrating or impossible. Even conventional mice may be too finicky for trembling or stiff fingers. Many seniors find trackballs more to their liking.

The BIGtrack Trackball by Infogrip, Inc. ($83.52 at Amazon) looks like it belongs in a toddler’s playpen. But its 3-inch trackball requires less fine motor control than much-smaller conventional trackballs. The blue buttons are located on the far side of the trackball to avoid unwanted clicks. A Drag Lock feature means you don’t have to hold a button down while dragging an item on-screen; instead, click the Lock and roll the ball, then unlock to release the item.

Big Trackball

HEARING IMPAIRMENT

Hearing loss, particularly in the higher frequencies range, can also be frustrating. A number of products make listening to music and video easier for seniors.

The Wireless TV Speaker System from FirstStreet ($179.95) puts TV sound right next to your chair. Speaker volume controls are independent of the TV system’s volume controls. This system also enhances the audio channel that carries dialogue/voices.

The Conversation Enhancer, also from FirstStreet ($179.95) filters background noise while amplifying the voices of men and women alike. Plug in the earbuds and converse clearly with a driver from the back seat, even if the radio is on; or enjoy a dinner conversation even if your table is near the kitchen. It can also be helpful for individual TV watching without disturbing others in the room.

Your thoughts on this topic (and these gadgets) are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

 
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This article was posted by on 9 Oct 2015


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Most recent comments on "Gadgets for Geezers?"

(See all 23 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Carole
09 Oct 2015

I set my screen resolutions at 800x600 on my computer. Once in a while I have to switch them back to 1024x768 when I can't scroll sideways. The trackball I like using is made by Logitech.


Posted by:

vic cook
09 Oct 2015

Your hint on using CTRL+Scroll wheel to Magnify small print was a blessing, I'm always looking for the three horizontal bars then scrolling to the right magnification each time I need to read an artical.....Thanks


Posted by:

curtis
09 Oct 2015

I know of friends that could make use of the information provided, thanks alot.


Posted by:

Mel Brown
09 Oct 2015

In addition to the Windows tips listed in the sidebar, Ctrl-0 (zero) returns screen type to its default size.


Posted by:

B Miller
09 Oct 2015

Thank you so much for the Ctrl + Scroll Wheel to enlarge the print. I have kept using settings to enlarge the print. Using the Ctrl + Scroll is much easier. Like many commenting, I am 66 and my hearing and eyesight are diminishing. I have a box which connects to the TV/computer/MP3 player that transmits wireless to a receiver/transmitter I wear around my neck. It in turn transmits to my hearing aids. Cell phone as well via Blue Tooth technology to my hearing aids. Love all the technology that assists us older ppl :) Makes life more enjoyable.


Posted by:

Chopin Cusachs
09 Oct 2015

Years ago I used a VAX at work. Its keyboard had the up and down keys above and below the left and right, so I didn't have to look down to see where my fingers were. Any hope such a keyboard will be available for the PC? Would help us seniors.


Posted by:

Glen
09 Oct 2015

As an old geezer,I find it annoying that i can't print something from Firefox, because they say they do not support my printer. HP Photosmart. Any suggestions would be appreciated. I can print with IE, but it is a pain switching back and forth.


Posted by:

Dave
09 Oct 2015

Besides the advantage of regular hearing aides, TV Ears provide increased sound that allows the volume level to remain at a comfortable level for those with normal hearing, or can be eliminated for them.


Posted by:

macrist
09 Oct 2015

Can you eval and cover the finer points for using Cortana and 'facial' logging-on to the computer [WIN10], for different accounts on the same computer,,,i.e. each account has its own Cortana access and 'facial' log-on recognition?? My aging parents could gain access easier and I RE-gain my sanity? Thankz n Advanz inHISmitts


Posted by:

Charles Heineke
09 Oct 2015

Thanks, Bob, for bringing together this nice assortment of helpers.

I've been using a Maxwell Large Print Keyboard, http://www.amazon.com/Maxell-Keyboard-Large-Print-Letters/dp/B00PYHVSLO/ref=sr_1_5?s=pc&ie=UTF8&qid=1444428687&sr=1-5&keywords=maxell+large+print+keyboard, available from Amazon, for several years. Besides the larger type, I especially like the extra keys at the top, which give me quick access to media, speaker volume, browser, email, search, file manager, calculator, and even power. My only improvement on it would be making it wireless.


Posted by:

Steve
09 Oct 2015

Good article as always, Bob. There's also a variety of tools as a standard part of the windows operating system to improve accessibility and the help menu makes them easy to use - with Windows 10 they are listed under "settings>ease of access"


Posted by:

Springbob
10 Oct 2015

Just two of the useful tips in Comments, here, suggest to me that Bob should carry a regular small column devoted to such tips for Seniors. For example "Your hint on using CTRL+Scroll wheel to Magnify small print was a blessing".
Also, "...CTRL+0 returns screen text to its default size". Wow, this big/small text option is gold-dust to us old farts. By accident, years ago, I also found out that CTRL+F lets me search a whole document, even a whole book, for a word or object. Gold-dust which has revealed diamonds.


Posted by:

Jay R
10 Oct 2015

Thank you, Bob, for not having toe tags on your Gadgets for Geezers list. Wowzers!


Posted by:

David
10 Oct 2015

For Glen's Firefox printing problem:

1. If you have any add-ons installed in Firefox, try disabling them one at a time. An incompatible add-on could cause this glitch, per HP support.

2. Make sure that HP Smart Print is enabled. It replaced HP Smart Web Printing long ago. http://support.hp.com/us-en/document/c01812475


Posted by:

David
10 Oct 2015

For Glen's Firefox printing problem:

1. If you have any add-ons installed in Firefox, try disabling them one at a time. An incompatible add-on could cause this glitch, per HP support.

2. Make sure that HP Smart Print is enabled. It replaced HP Smart Web Printing long ago. http://support.hp.com/us-en/document/c01812475


Posted by:

Bill Merriam
10 Oct 2015

Bob, another gadget I use, from Amazon, is the
Carson 5x MiniBrite LED Lighted Slide-Out Aspheric Magnifier with Protective Sleeve (PO-55, PO-55MU). Its probably the handiest, quality,
small high magnification piece I've used, and I
have used quite a few as I get older. Price
seems to vary from $8 to $12. I whine at $11
but I own three, now.


Posted by:

Al. S
10 Oct 2015

The easy Eyes all failed after a while and I had to crash my Computer to remove it. I installed the ivations 7 color on all my Desktops, one caviat, be sure to plug it into a USB port that turns off when the computer does or else it will stay on never turning off. For my Notebooks I buy large letter stickers for about $13.00 covers all but the F keys and has various sizes for Caps Tab etc. as there may be two or three different sizes.


Posted by:

Alexander Jankowski
10 Oct 2015

> The bad news is, we’re all getting older.

Nevertheless that is still better than the alternative. :-)


Posted by:

RustBelt
12 Oct 2015


Great tips - Thanks Bob!

I've got a lot to learn since I'm only 74 but one tip I discovered will be found useful by any that have the patience to look it up. In your help section or just a general search see what a search for "Keyboard Shortcuts" and/or "Tips" turn up. I have almost reached the level of hardly using my mouse - just keyboard combos.


Posted by:

William Junger
19 Oct 2015

I bought 2 EZ Eyes keyboards last year and stopped using them after many keys' labeling rubbed off.


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