Bigger sights and clearer sounds for the elderly

From projectors for those losing their sight, to wireless headphones for those losing their hearing, a little bit of tech can help our aging loved ones.

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FaceTime, circa 1960. Today there's simple technology, namely headphones and projectors, that can help those starting to lose their vision and hearing. Via Wikipedia

We all get old, something I'm begrudgingly having to admit as I see all my friends with loud kids, and I find traces of gray in what remains of my hair.

But shock! There are people even older, and to them my thoughts on mortality are little more than an amusing affectation. For them, it's life.

Thankfully there are a couple pieces of simple tech can help those losing their sight or hearing. I'm not talking about implants or hearing aids, but projectors and headphones.

The reader email that inspired this article is too sweet not to reprint here:

My mom is 100 years young and uses her iPad to email and FaceTime my wife and myself daily. She reads newspapers and magazines voraciously. Unfortunately, macular degeneration is intruding on her way of life and the prognosis is not too good. I am wondering if a large projection screen could help her tv viewing as well as newspaper viewing and iPad using? Any ideas of anything I could rig up for her would be more than welcome. In so far as my mom is concerned, cost is not an object. Thanks for any suggestions you might have.

-Martin

Macular degeneration is one type of vision loss, but not the only kind. Not all will be helped by a bigger or brighter image, but many can be. Here are some general ideas to consider, hopefully a help for those of any age.

Sight

Making a big image is easy, and not that expensive. Forget spending thousands on a LCD, you can get a sub-$500 projector that's extremely bright, and can make an image as big as you want. Yes, you'll need to control the light in the room, but that doesn't seem a serious price to pay. The lower resolution of cheaper projectors (720p) likely won't be an issue, as you'll want to increase the size of the text anyway (look under Accessibility in settings).

There's no guarantee this will work, as it largely depends on how bad the eyes have gotten. But it's worth a shot. We don't review these extremely cheap projectors at CNET, but we've had good luck with slightly more-expensive Epson and BenQ models we have reviewed. Check out Epson's Value Series and BenQ's less-expensive models.

Alternately, yes, you could get a big LCD, and sit your grandparent closer, but to me this seems more cumbersome, especially if a wireless keyboard and mouse is involved. However, if the eye's issue is brightness, well you can't beat LCD on that front.

So what's the easiest way to hook it up? Connecting the cable box to the projector to get TV is easy enough, and for other content, I suggest an Apple TV. Martin's mom can use AirPlay Mirroring to put what's on the iPad, up on the screen. FaceTime might be a little awkward, as she'll be looking up at the big screen and not at the iPad where the camera is, but that seems beside the point (after all, isn't her seeing you more important?).

I'm sure most 100-year-olds aren't as tech savvy as Martin's mom, which is why I think Apple is the way to go here (its mirroring is way easier than any other option). Apple products are easy to use, and that is far more important than any fanboy bickering about OS.

Hearing

As we age, our hearing degrades, and that's the case even if you didn't spend your youth pressed against the speakers at Captain and Tennille concerts. The high frequencies go first, and depending on what you've done in your life, you may have specific dropouts at other frequencies too.

However, if your hearing seems fine otherwise, but you're just having trouble hearing the dialog in movies/TV shows, that might not be you. Regardless the cause, a soundbar would likely help a ton.

If you've already tried that, or the hearing loss is more severe, there are a bevy of wireless headphones on the market. These connect to the TV (or other source), and let one person have whatever volume they need, while the TV remains at a lower volume.

The Wirecutter did a big test of these, and found a $140 pair of Sennheisers to be the best pick.

Bottom Line

For a generation that might still be unsure how to use Google, getting them to try new tech is likely an uphill battle. It's not impossible, though, especially if you show them what they can get out of it. Connecting with family via email or Skype, watching favorite TV shows and movies, listening to beloved music, these are things that don't need to disappear as we age. In fact, they should be done as long as possible.

How about you? Any tech tricks you've found that can help aging parents/grandparents/loved ones?


Got a question for Geoff? First, check out all the other articles he's written on topics like why all HDMI cables are the same, LED LCD vs. plasma, active versus passive 3D, and more. Still have a question? Send him an email! He won't tell you what TV to buy, but he might use your letter in a future article. You can also send him a message on Twitter @TechWriterGeoff or Google+.

About the author

Geoffrey Morrison is a freelance writer/photographer for CNET, Forbes, and TheWirecutter. He also writes for Sound&Vision magazine, HDGuru.com, and several others. He was Editor in Chief of Home Entertainment magazine and before that, Technical Editor of Home Theater magazine. He is NIST and ISF trained, and has a degree in Television/Radio from Ithaca College. His bestselling first novel, Undersea, is available in paperback and as an ebook on Amazon, B&N, and elsewhere.

 

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