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Seniors want more than just bath salts

by Professor Susan Brandis, head of Bond University’s occupational therapy program

As Christmas fast approaches, maybe it’s time to rethink what we’re putting under the tree this year for Nana and Grandad.  

In 2023 Australia, the age-old assumption that the seniors in our midst aren’t tech’ savvy is increasingly being proven wrong.  

Research by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) into the digital lives of older Australians shows that while younger age-groups are still leading the charge in the extent and types of online behaviours, there has been more significant change in the online habits of those aged 65 and older.  
ACMA found older people are engaging in a notably broader range of online activities across different devices and connecting to the internet more than ever before.  
It's backed up by numerous studies, including research by Australia’s eSafety Commissioner, which confirm that over 70 percent of older people use the internet daily, and device ownership is common. 
In other words, as the Boomers boom and enjoy increased life expectancy, so too does their digital literacy grow.  
It makes perfect sense. They are people that have the time and financial means to play around with new devices and they enjoy discovering new things; after all this is the generation that put man on the moon. 

And I put my hand up as someone guilty of not realising the tech savviness of the older people around me until it was too late. 

Years back I used to get my Nana lavender bath salts for Christmas. 

Susan Brandis in the new BHIS space

She got them from me every year, although occasionally I would mix it up with Lily of the Valley talcum powder or a bright new handkerchief. 

But when she passed we found a drawer full of bath cubes that were never used, finally solving the mystery of why her bedroom always had that grandma sort of smell. 

And Grandad got a box of chocolate ginger every year, so it was no wonder he was overweight and had diabetes. 
Thankfully, the digital revolution has brought with it new gifting options for our parents and grandparents as we dive headlong and maybe slightly panicked into this year’s Christmas shopping. 
One idea is to think smart – smart anything, like a watch that has an inbuilt fall detector, heart rate monitor, alert systems and large-font clock display.  
There are a wide range of wearable devices out there now at reasonable cost which can be wrist-worn or pendant style.   
Or how about a set of Bluetooth trackers which are useful for finding frustratingly misplaced items such as keys, luggage, eyeglasses cases and so on? 
These are a fabulous aid for those with mild memory loss, or with a tendency to just lose stuff.   
Wireless headsets and earbuds are another great suggestion as they promote independence and connection.  
The podcast is essentially a modern makeover of the speaking books we listened to through cassette players of the 70s and the headsets of today are also great for telehealth as the quality of the sound helps with clearer and better understood remote consultations.  

Automatic light movement detectors are another great gift for those at risk of night falls.  
These are available from lighting and hardware stores and range from the inexpensive portable night light sensors to complex smart home installations that feature voice activation.  
They are particularly useful in spaces between beds and bathrooms as they provide a soft light and assist with night visibility.  
Another useful gizmo is a video doorbell.  
These can be paired with a mobile phone to enable a video image of who is at the front door and provide a level of security valued by many older people. 

For those downsizing, how about a membership at a health centre that has state-of-the-art equipment and programs specifically developed for the over 50s?  
The aim is not to get members looking like Arnie Schwarzenegger but rather increase muscle strength, bone density and general levels of fitness.  
By using technology-assisted exercise machines, people are provided with a tailored exercise program which can be tracked through a smart device. 

Exercise is vitally important stuff. 
Inactivity is a major cause of physical and cognitive decline as we age, and regular exercise can prevent falls, fractures, improve continence and mental abilities.  
All things never achieved by lavender bath salts or a box of chocolate ginger. 

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