Products to Help Seniors Stay Connected, Happy, and Healthy During the COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19 has changed the way we live, especially when it comes to socializing. Throughout the nation, social distancing guidelines have been put into place, with experts recommending that older adults be especially careful. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults age 65 and over account for 8 out of 10 coronavirus-related fatalities in the United States. To help protect them from being exposed to the virus, many seniors are currently isolated from friends and family.
Social distancing can be especially difficult for seniors who have chosen to age in place, as family members and friends have likely been advised to not visit in-person, leaving seniors without access to the support systems that they’re used to. Some states are also advising seniors to avoid going to potentially crowded public spaces, including grocery stores, as much as possible.
Caregivers, family members, and friends of seniors can help their loved ones to obtain the things that they need to stay healthy and happy while isolating. Whether your loved one is in need of essentials such as nutritional supplements, safety-enhancing technology, or simply entertainment, there are many products available online that can benefit seniors during the coronavirus outbreak and beyond. In this guide, we offer some suggestions for items that can make your older loved one safer and show them that you’re thinking of them during this difficult time.
Technology to Stay Connected
Seniors throughout the nation are being instructed to “shelter in place” as much as possible. Whether one lives independently or in a residential care community, this means no visits from friends or family or in-person activities to look forward to. Thankfully, there is plenty of technology available today that can help us stay connected to our loved ones, even if we can’t physically be with them for the time being. The following tech items, all of which can be purchased online, can be a great way for the senior in your life to maintain their relationships and prevent loneliness while social distancing guidelines are in place.
According to the Pew Research Center, the number of seniors using smartphones more than doubled between 2013 and 2017. Still, only four in ten seniors owned a smartphone, and roughly half of seniors owned any type of cell phone, at the time of the report in 2017. If your loved one does not have a cell phone or could benefit from an upgrade to a phone with more capabilities, now is the perfect time to order one for them.
Not only will a cell phone encourage more frequent communication with friends and family while social distancing, but it can enable freedom and safety once restrictions are lifted. And, cell phones from essentially all major manufacturers are available to purchase online- even the iPhone X.
Some seniors may not be comfortable with a standard smartphone and would prefer a simpler device designed with older adults in mind. If you’re interested in learning more about senior-friendly cell phones, read our guide to the best cell phones for seniors.
A good alternative to a smartphone- especially for seniors- is a tablet, which has much of the same functionality as a smartphone, but with a bigger screen. The large screens on tablets make the devices easier to read and use for many people, particularly those with impaired vision. Tablets strike a balance between a cell phone and a laptop computer, offering more capabilities than a cell phone in a smaller, lighter design than a computer. The lightweight design may be why seniors prefer a tablet to a laptop for playing games and watching videos, according to the AARP.
When considering a tablet for your loved one, look for one with senior-friendly features like icon size adjustment, loud volume on the speakers, and a large screen. If your loved one is already familiar with one type of operating system from using a cell phone (for example, iPhone users are likely more comfortable with Apple’s operating system), try to find a tablet that uses the same operating system to make it easier to learn how to use. Tablets are available from most top electronics manufacturers, including Apple, Samsung, and Lenovo. Amazon also manufactures its own well-regarded Amazon Fire tablet line, including the top-rated Fire HD 10 Tablet which retails on the Amazon site for less than $150.
Some tablets will be better suited for seniors than others. Read our full review to learn more about the best tablets for seniors.
Laptops are becoming increasingly important in our everyday lives. Whether you use your laptop for work, entertainment, or talking to friends and family, it’s likely that you’re spending a lot of time on your computer these days. Seniors can reap a lot of the same benefits of having a laptop. The devices can serve as a portable entertainment center and make it easier to connect via video with friends, family, and even medical providers using telehealth. And, given that older Americans now spend an average of over four hours per day on “screen time,” a laptop will likely be a welcome addition to your loved one’s gadget collection.
Because seniors likely won’t be using their laptop for work, you can forego high-memory options and stick to a laptop designed primarily for entertainment. Another plus is that these laptops tend to be less expensive than those intended for workers. For example, the highly-rated Lenovo 2-in-1 Convertible Chromebook Laptop Computer retails for less than $400 on Amazon.
Sales of smart speakers and smart home devices, such as the Amazon Alexa or Google Home, have increased dramatically since 2014, with projections showing further increases in the future. And, unlike other technologies, Boomers and seniors account for a substantial portion of smart speaker users. The devices provide some unique advantages for older adults, especially those who live independently. Smart speakers and smart home systems can be used for home security, entertainment, communication, and more.
If selecting a smart home device for an elderly loved one who’s aging in place, look for a model with a screen and video capabilities, such as the Echo Show from Amazon. The addition of the screen enables easy video chatting with the device. Users can use voice commands to call anyone in their contact list, eliminating the need to sort through one’s contact list or remember friends’ phone numbers. While it doesn’t compare to being with your loved one in person, using a smart speaker to video chat can help you stay connected while you wait to be reunited.
Home Modifications for Aging in Place
According to the National Institute on Aging, 60% of falls occur at home. The organization recommends making home modifications to effectively “fall-proof” a home and make aging in place safer. The following recommendations include both home modifications and assistive devices that can all help make your loved one safer while living independently, especially while friends and family are temporarily unable to visit.
Medical Alert Systems
The CDC reports that millions of seniors fall each year, three million of whom require emergency care for injuries related to their fall. For caregivers or family members of seniors who live independently, the fear about a loved one falling or having another emergency can be overwhelming. This anxiety has likely only magnified now that friends and family can’t stop by to check-in or assist their older loved one with their daily tasks.
Medical alert systems can help alleviate this fear and make it easy for seniors to quickly get the help they need if an emergency occurs while they’re alone. The devices all include a personal help button that connects to trained emergency operators and/or a user’s chosen contacts, such as a caregiver. Some devices include additional features such as automatic fall detection using motion sensors, GPS location tracking, and medication reminders.
Think about your loved one’s lifestyle, medical conditions, mobility, and home layout when selecting a medical alert system. The biggest decision is choosing between an in-home device, which typically has a range of 600-1,300 feet from a stationary base placed in the home, or a mobile device, which is portable and works both in and out of the home.
Another important decision is which company you’ll buy or lease your medical alert system from. There are over a dozen companies offering the devices in the United States alone, and not all companies are equal. Check customer reviews and websites like the Better Business Bureau before choosing a company. To get started, you can look at devices from LifeFone, MobileHelp, and Medical Guardian. All companies have a history of reliable service and consumer-friendly policies and offer a range of device options including both mobile and in-home systems. For an easy way to compare quotes from various medical alert providers, check out eMedicalAlerts.com.
A CDC study found that more than a third of fall-related injuries occur while the person is showering or using the bathtub. It’s no surprise that the bathroom is a hotspot for falls given the hard surfaces and potential for puddles or moisture that makes floors slippery. A helpful, simple bathroom modification is adding grab bars throughout the room, especially by the shower and bathtub.
But, for some seniors who are aging in place, a grab bar is not enough. Specifically, those who have a history of falls or balance and mobility challenges may be better candidates for a walk-in tub to make bathing easier and safer. In addition to enhancing safety, walk-in tubs can make bathing more comfortable and make it easier for your older loved one to maintain proper hygiene even if they do not currently have the assistance that they’re used to.
There are many different styles of walk-in tubs to choose from. When selecting a tub for your loved one, consider their weight and height, the size of their bathroom, and their personal preferences for add-on features such as headrests, aromatherapy, and heated seats. To begin the process of selecting a walk-in tub for your older loved one, click here to get a quote.
While some seniors choose to relocate to a residential care facility or a home without stairs for their golden years, it’s not a possibility for everyone. More than 75% of older adults desire to age in place in the same home they’ve lived in for years or even decades, which sometimes does have stairs. A stairlift can be a solution for those who wish to age in place in a home with stairs and enables those with reduced mobility to safely age in whatever home they wish. Stairlifts also enable independence, especially when a family member or caregiver isn’t present to assist.
Installing a stairlift in one’s home is definitely a costly endeavor, with prices from top manufacturers starting at approximately $1,700 for the most basic model. Be sure to have a budget in mind prior to starting the shopping process to ensure you don’t overextend you or your loved one’s resources. If you’re only interested in a stairlift for short term use, such as for the duration of social distancing protocols, you may be able to rent a stairlift for a fee of several hundred dollars per month. Click here to get a free quote for stairlifts and learn more about your options.
Hoyer lifts are a great option for those looking to avoid permanent home modifications or a potentially complicated installation process. Hoyer lifts help move older adults who have mobility or balance challenges and may struggle to get themselves up from a sitting or lying position. The lifts can make transferring an older adult safer for both the senior and the caregiver. And, many Hoyer lifts are free-standing (though lifts that attach into the ceiling are available), so they can be moved from room-to-room or even from one home to another if the senior decides to move at any point. For example, the top-rated lift on Amazon, the Advance Portable Hoyer Patient Lift, is completely freestanding and has lockable wheels for easy movement.
Before purchasing a Hoyer lift for your loved one, you may want to speak with their physician about their mobility challenges. This can help you determine which specific style of Hoyer lift is best for your loved one. Most manufacturers offer at least five styles, so you’ll have plenty to choose from. To learn more about Hoyer lifts and some of the top companies to purchase from, read our full review of the best Hoyer lifts for seniors.
Practical and Supportive Care Packages for Seniors
Most senior living communities are restricting or banning visitors for the time being to protect residents from being exposed to coronavirus. While it’s a great thing for these communities to put the safety and health of residents above all, the restrictions can be hard emotionally on both residents and their friends and families.
Families and friends of older adults can use online shopping to put together a “care package” of sorts to cheer their loved one up while also providing them with some practical items. Whether your loved one lives in a residential care facility with visitor restrictions in place or is social distancing at home independently, a care package is a great way to show them that you’re thinking of them even when you can’t physically visit. Below, we’ve provided some suggestions for items to include in the care package that can help your older loved one stay entertained and well-stocked with essentials.
Hobbies and Entertainment
One of the major consequences of social distancing is boredom. Without friends and family visiting and with social activities canceled, seniors are especially isolated right now. On top of that, they may not be as tuned in to online entertainment options, such as Netflix and Hulu, as younger adults. Sending your loved one some items for entertainment is a great way to help them pass the time and stay occupied until they’re able to socialize again.
When choosing what entertainment items to add to your care package, think about your loved one’s interests. If they’ve enjoyed artistic endeavors in the past, a watercolor paint set and pad of high-quality paper may be the perfect things to keep your loved one entertained. Another idea for those with a crafty streak that’s especially fitting for current times is a variety pack of fabric squares that they can use to create accessories for themselves or masks for health care workers, friends, and/or family to use to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. An added benefit of these items is that creating art has been proven to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression.
If your loved one is not interested in art, a jigsaw puzzle is a great solo activity for any age. This 4-pack from Amazon includes four different 1,000 piece puzzles, with landscape and nature options available for those currently missing the great outdoors.
Books and Literature
Reading is a timeless hobby that’s suitable for people of all ages. In addition to providing entertainment, reading has been associated with a number of health benefits, including preventing cognitive decline, stress reduction, and aiding sleep. All genres of books are very easy to purchase on websites like Amazon, and oftentimes you can find deals on value packs, such as this Dan Brown box set including 7 novels for under $40.
If your loved one has impaired vision and struggles to read physical books, you can still give a virtual gift of an audiobook. You can buy individual audiobooks, or gift your loved one an Audible membership which enables them to download several books per month. Keep in mind that for the latter they will need to be able to download the Audible app to a smartphone or tablet, so it is best suited for tech-savvy individuals.
While being separated from your older loved one, it’s natural to worry about their nutrition, especially if you’re used to assisting them with meals at home or visiting them in their residential care facility to share a meal. Harvard Medical School cites a diet heavy in fruit and vegetables as one of the top ways to strengthen one’s immune system, showing that adequate nutrition is especially important to help protect oneself against COVID-19.
If you’re worried about how much your loved one is eating or that they aren’t eating enough fruits and vegetables, a multivitamin is a great way to ensure that they’re still getting all of the nutrients they need for a strong immune system. A large bottle of 150 multivitamins specifically tailored for senior health is available on Amazon for under $10. If your loved one isn’t a fan of pills, gummy multivitamins are also available on Amazon and can make taking a vitamin feel like a treat.
Another good option is nutritional shakes to help your loved one consume enough daily calories, protein, and vitamins and minerals. Popular nutritional drinks such as Ensure are available on Amazon, often in packs of 12 or 24, so one order will last your loved one several weeks. When selecting a shake for your loved one, check the nutrition facts to be sure that it includes a wide variety of vitamins and minerals and sufficient protein to serve as a meal replacement.
Putting together a custom care package will show your loved one that you care without potentially putting them in danger by breaking social distancing protocols. And there is no greater way to show someone you love them than by doing what you need to do to keep them safe.