February 01, 2020 Technology

The Technology of Health and Aging

Jeffrey Allen and Ashley Hallene

The evolution of technology in the last 20 years has impacted us in every aspect of our lives. Power drawn directly from the sun collected in solar panels installed on the tops of our homes. Electric and hybrid automobiles. Watches that communicate with our telephones, tablets, and other devices to make calls, run apps, deliver messages, and track activity such as your sleep. Cell phones that take excellent pictures and videos, play games, play music, and allow you to access the internet. Tablets that do most of the same things phones do.

Medical and nonmedical devices that track your sleep, your steps, your calorie intake, your carbs, your protein and sugar intake, your heart rate, your blood pressure, your blood sugar, and so on. Hearing aids that function as telephone earphones and headphones for streaming music or other media. Advanced mobility devices. The list goes on and on and on.

The bottom line is that the wonders of modern technology have made it easier to age with some grace and to remain more active as we age. Accordingly, we have reached the time in our history where the senior citizen, instead of acting the technological dinosaur, should look to lead in the adoption of much new technology that can make our lives better and easier as we age.

In this article, we explore briefly some of the areas in which technology has had a positive impact on the aging process and some of the pieces of that technology that deserve our special attention.

Vision: We all know that vision tends to diminish as we age. We’ve had glasses and even contact lenses for so long that we hardly consider them technology any longer. But the reality is that they are.

Even more significant is the fact that the quality of glasses has improved due to technological advances and so, for that matter, has the ability of the medical profession to determine the most useful corrections to our aging vision. Just to give you an example, remember when we were kids and older people wore bifocals with a clear line showing where the second lens began?

Remember when they first started building glasses that could get darker in sunlight? They took forever to lighten back up when you stepped out of the sun, and they were worthless in a car as the windshield glass prevented them from darkening. Now we have full progressive lenses, glasses that will darken and lighten rapidly, offering protection from the sun that can also work in a car, the windshield notwithstanding.

Hearing: It used to be fairly obvious when someone wore a hearing aid. They were big and bulky and pretty much readily visible from a distance. Now they work better, provide more features (multiple programs, the ability to control them through a cell phone, the ability to work with a cell phone as well as to stream music or audio in companionship to a movie).

Hearing aid batteries last longer, and the newest models have the ability to recharge so you don’t have to change batteries; just drop them into the case to recharge. There’s no longer a good excuse for older people to remain hearing-impaired.

Fitness trackers: Years ago, we had stop watches and pedometers, and that was about it for general health and fitness in terms of technology. Today we have highly sophisticated trackers that can monitor heartbeat, pulse, breath, calorie burn, steps, sleep, and more.

The most likely suspects here come from Fitbit, Apple, and Samsung (we think in that order). The Apple Watch presents the most fashion-forward of the three, followed by Samsung and Fitbit. From the perspective of keeping track of your activities, we prefer the Apple Watch, but if you want to keep track of sleep, opt for the Fitbit. The Fitbit also will cost you the least, and the Apple Watch generally the most.

Note that none of these trackers has qualified as a medical device, so take the information they provide as a guideline or an estimate and not the gospel. A couple of key points for you in considering what to buy: All Apple Watches of the same generation use the same innards, the same technology, and the same operating system. The widely disparate prices you see relate to the materials—the strap you choose and whether it’s a designer-label version. The aluminum cases come at the lowest price followed by the stainless steel cases, then titanium and the ceramic cases (in that order).

When it comes to the Fitbit, you can choose from several models with different designs, innards, and features. Our current favorite, the Versa 2, offers what we consider the best package of price and features. If you want to save a few dollars, the Charge 3 will work just fine for most people.

If you want to save even more money, get the Fitbit with the cheapest band your model is sold with and then go to Amazon to find a band to add. We’ve purchased some very attractive Milanese loop-style bands on Amazon for about $10 each in several colors and received many compliments on them.

Mobility: As we age, our mobility often becomes impaired. While some older people have the ability to walk without assistance, many require a cane or more serious assistance. Depending on the cause of the impairment, it may worsen over time. Whatever the cause, most people seem to walk more slowly as they age. While walking provides excellent exercise, it may become difficult or impossible to do that comfortably.

Enter personal electric vehicles. These devices come in the form of scooters and chairs with wheels. They allow you to sit on them and whisk you along at a reasonable pace generally equal to or better than a healthy younger person can walk.

Immobility makes it harder to travel enjoyably. These devices effectively restore mobility and make it easier to travel later in life. Particularly useful in our experience the Whill Ci (chair) and the Triaxe Sport (folding scooter).

For those on the younger side or seniors in reasonably good health, consider an electric assist bike that provides a bit of a boost to let you go faster and handle hills much more easily. Several companies make folding versions that can make your commute or vacation travel much easier.

Phones and tablets: Let’s not forget the utility of our smart phones and tablets. Whether you work on the iOS (or iPad OS for the iPad) or the Android platforms, you can find numerous apps to help you in terms of health and fitness. These apps run the gamut and range from:

  • Controllers for your mobility device
  • Remote controls for hearing aids
  • Calorie counters
  • Blood sugar trackers
  • Health record storage
  • Meditation aids
  • Concentration, sleep, or wake up and get moving assistants

The list goes on and on. Most of you already have smart phones, and many of you also have tablets. Search the relevant store (Apple’s iTunes App Store or the Google Play Store) for apps to facilitate your health.

That’ll keep you pretty busy for a while. Pick the ones you think might help you, download them, and give them a try. Apps we particularly like are the Apple Watch app, the Fitbit app, and Lose It, a calorie counter. If you use hearing aids and have a pair of recent manufacture, your hearing aid manufacturer likely has an app that works with your hearing aids.

Also, let’s not forget that smart phones have cameras and the cameras have gotten better and better. You can find numerous apps to assist your cell phone picture taking, Those apps include filters, special effects, assistance in taking the picture, and in after-the-fact improvement to the pictures you took.

CGM: A continuous glucose monitor can be a life-saving device for someone with diabetes. The disease has grown to epidemic proportions, negatively impacting the health of young and old alike.

Back in the day, diabetes meant you had to prick your finger and draw blood to test your blood sugar several times a day. You’d use the results to regulate the insulin levels in your body and help you determine the amount of insulin to take at any given time.

While diabetics still need to know their blood sugar readings to set their insulin intake, now we have CGMs you can wear 24/7 and that monitor your blood sugar by taking readings at fixed intervals, such as every 5 minutes.

Exercise machines: Lots of different exercise machines have come onto the market using a variety of technology. Those machines have the ability to create easier and harder workouts, track your vital signs, and even take you on tours on a stationary bicycle.

The number of different types of exercise machines and their features is too vast to address in this article. Suffice it to say that you have lots of choices that involve more or less work on your part and track various vitals, such as your pulse and blood pressure, as well as, in some cases, an estimate of calories you’ve burned doing your exercise routine.

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Jeffrey Allen

Jeffrey Allen is the principal at Graves & Allen in Oakland, Calif., where he has practiced since 1973. He’s active in the ABA, the California State Bar Association, and the Alameda County Bar Association.

Ashley Hallene

Ashley Hallene is a petroleum landman at Macpherson Energy in Bakersfield, Calif. She practices oil and gas law, title examination, due diligence, acquisitions, and oil and gas leasing. She frequently speaks in technology CLEs.