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Why Getting Grandpa Online Could Save His Life

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We tend to identify hot, new technologies with the young, but it is the not-so-young who will reap many of the greatest benefits of technology, not only today, but tomorrow. With 5.2 million Canadians -- or 15 per cent of the population -- over the age of 65 today, "digitally aging" has the potential to be a very good thing. Even better, more than 20 per cent of Canada's population is coming up right behind at ages 50 to 65.

So, while technology like smartphones, tablets and such seem at first glance to be aimed at the young and hip, it's those in need of replacement hips who will be the biggest winners as technology continues to transform our daily lives bit by byte.

And we're not just talking of medical advances, for which there have been many over the last few decades, like those super strong polymer composite hips, knees and shoulders. There is so much more in store. Take depression, an all-too-common affliction in the elderly with different effects than on younger people. For example, studies show depression doubles an elderly person's risk of cardiac diseases and death and reduces an elderly person's ability to get healthy or at least improve their overall health.

Isolation speeds up the aging process and is one of the leading causes of depression in the elderly. Technology can lessen these feelings of isolation. When you can Skype with your grandchildren, email your children or keep in touch with old and new friends via Facebook, you don't feel as isolated.

For chronic diseases that afflict the elderly, like diabetes and heart disease, there are now so many easy-to-use apps and gadgets to monitor blood-sugar levels, blood pressure and more. Some people say technology is just too hard for old folks to learn and adopt in their lives. Bunk, I say, and point to the brilliant investor Warren Buffet who never used a computer and never wanted to learn how -- until he found out he could play bridge online. Besides making money, bridge is one of Buffet's great passions. Point is: he learned to work the computer when there was something in it for him. And what's more important than health, especially when you're aging and suffering chronic problems?

Look at brainiacs like Dr. Eric Topol, a pioneering geneticist, cardiologist and director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute in San Diego, who argue technology must destroy the way medicine is practised and that will be a great thing, not only for seniors but also taxpayers because healthcare costs will come down.

"With personal technology, doctors can see a full, continuously updated picture of each patient and treat each individually. Powerful new tools can sequence one's genome to predict the effects of any drugs, and improved imaging and printing technology are beginning to enable us to print organs on demand," Topol writes in The Creative Destruction of Medicine.

But set aside great big medical advances and look at everyday things, too, where technology can improve the lives of the elderly.

There are numerous websites out there with cognitive tools that improve memory and slow down memory loss. There are countless products on the market -- from high-tech, easy-to-enter showers for the home, to sensors that use open source technology to send emergency alerts out if a senior falls in his or her home.
There are companies like GoodRobot coming up with innovative ideas to use technology to benefit seniors. For example, every morning, we do two things: use the washroom and go to the refrigerator. Well, GoodRobot has apps that measure water use in the home and whether the fridge door has been opened.

So, your mom is 80-years-old and lives alone and she generally wakes around 7 a.m. You can use an app from GoodRobot that alerts your smartphone or tablet if no water has run or fridge opened in your mom's home by 9 a.m. After getting the alert, you phone her, head over there, call a neighbour or call 911 even.
Maybe you can't teach an old dog new tricks -- unless it's done with an online learning program for seniors.

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