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5 Apps and Tech Skills That May Lead to a Healthier You

Get a ride, get a meal, get grandkids on the phone quickly.

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illustration of elderly woman walking towards cellphone on steps formed from a phone charger plugged into the wall
Kyle Ellingson
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Not long after starting Tech Moxie, my technology coaching business, I was hired to help a 68-year-old woman with Parkinson’s. Her tremors were worsening, and she was having difficulty doing basic tasks on her iPhone, such as making calls and tapping out text messages.

I asked her if she had ever used Siri — the iPhone’s voice assistant. She had not, but was game to try, so I adjusted her phone settings so that Siri would start up when she pushed the side button.  

I showed her how, with a voice command, she could call or text anyone on her contact list. This simple skill lessened frustration and improved her life considerably — as she could now also connect with family members quickly.

In the years since, I have helped many clients compensate for physical and cognitive decline using simple everyday technologies. Rather than wait until the need arises, now is the time to learn how to use these five technologies to enhance independence and simplify life.

Voice commands on your smartphone

All smartphones come with a free, built-in voice-activated virtual personal assistant that can send text messages, provide map directions, do simple internet searches (“what time does today’s Cubs game start?”) and open apps on your phone. On my iPhone, for example, I can ask Siri to send a text message to any of my contacts. “Hey Siri, send a text message to Sandra” and Siri will respond, “What would you like it to say?” I can then dictate, “Be there in five minutes”

For iPhone users like me, our assistant is Siri. Android smartphones come with Google Assistant. For security purposes, both require one-time activation in your settings. Do a quick internet search to learn all the things that Siri and the Google Assistant can do for you.

Beyond illnesses that affect movement like Parkinson’s, voice commands are also an effective tool for those who have mild cognitive impairment — or don’t want to search around a messy purse to locate reading glasses. 

Put a smart assistant in your home

Having an Amazon Echo in her bathroom may have saved my client Sheila’s life. As she lived alone and had a number of health issues, she feared a fall and not being able to call for help. Despite her family’s urging, she refused to wear a medical alert device. Instead, she asked for my help setting up her one-bedroom apartment with a couple of Amazon Echo devices, a tech tool that commands “Alexa” to make calls to anyone on your contact list. Several months later, Sheila had the fall she feared, in her bathroom, and broke her hip. Unable to move, Sheila asked “Alexa” to call her son. He lived nearby, she quickly reached him, and he was able to rush over and arrange emergency services.

In addition to instant phone connections, smart assistants can be set up to turn lights on and off, adjust your thermostat and find out who is ringing your doorbell. These tech-besties can also be directed to play your favorite music, read aloud the latest news and even tell you a joke. Popular brands in addition to the Amazon Echo include Google Home and Apple’s HomePod.

Leave the driving to Uber and Lyft

I urge my clients to learn to use Uber or Lyft as insurance against the day that they may have to give up driving — temporarily, for good, or even just after a couple glasses of wine. Sometimes referred to as “ride-hailing” services, these services cost less than cabs and are summoned via apps rather than with a phone call or hailing in the street.

Many clients find those first few trips anxiety-provoking as they wonder whether they have put in the right address, what happens if vehicle doesn’t show and how the driver will find them on a busy street. Stress and technology are not a good combination so best not to download a driving app when you are pressed to get to a doctor’s appointment.

To get started, download the Uber and/or Lyft apps on your smartphone and follow the prompts to enter personal information such as your credit card, that that will be automatically charged each time you use the service. Remember: You won’t be able to pay with cash — all transactions are handled via the app (including the tip) which is safer for both you and the driver. For further safety, make sure you check that the license plate on your app, and the make of the car, matches the vehicle you are about to step into, and that the driver confirms your name. Share the details of your trip with a loved one, don’t ride alone if you are not well and always ride in the back seat.

Keep track of your loved ones (and never lose your keys again)

When my daughter was in high school, I caught her ditching classes one day. The tip-off came from the then-new “Find My Friends” feature on my iPhone, which uses GPS tracking to locate other devices. Because our Apple accounts were connected, I was able to tell that she — and her iPhone — were not anywhere near her classroom.

Privacy features now require that you give permission for someone to track you even if your accounts are connected. I have clients who use this feature to help keep track of a loved one with dementia or just for the same safety considerations that my daughter and I share. On an Android phone you can share your location using Google Maps.

You can also use similar technology to keep track of personal belongings that always seem to be go astray. An inexpensive GPS tracker such as Tile or Apple’s AirTag can be purchased and attached to keys and other items. The setup is done via an app on your phone that can then be checked to find the item’s location.

Get local meals and items delivered

There are now numerous online delivery service apps that can simplify our lives as we age, from delivered pharmacy items to groceries to fully cooked meals, ordered from a restaurant’s menu and then picked up and delivered. Popular dining services include Uber Eats, Doordash, and Grub Hub, but others may be available in your area. Start by either downloading the app(s) on your smartphone or go to the website in your computer browser. You will need to set up an account, which requires entering your credit card info, so they have a payment method on file.

Although having restaurant food delivered to your door might seem like a luxury, it can be a needed lifeline if you are unable to shop and cook for any number of health reasons. Some services will also pick up items from a pharmacy, which is especially helpful if you aren’t feeling well enough to venture out yourself.

Now, enjoy your rice bowl, freshly delivered from Panera, while Alexa plays your favorite Aretha Franklin songs. Afterward, lounge on the couch and ask Siri to call your beloved grandson to talk about how he is enjoying his first year of college.

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