home icon

Assistive Technology Helps People Age in Place

Tools and services to help people do more on their own as they grow older

By Administration on Aging | June 14, 2012

Those who have difficulty getting around, communicating or handling routine tasks can benefit from a wide range of equipment and services known as “assistive technology.”

Assistive technology is any service or tool that helps the elderly or disabled do the activities they have always done but must now do differently. 

These tools are also sometimes called “adaptive devices.”

Such technology may be something as simple as a walker to make moving around easier or an amplification device to make sounds easier to hear (for talking on the telephone or watching television, for instance). It could also include a magnifying glass that helps someone who has poor vision read the newspaper or a small motor scooter that makes it possible to travel over distances that are too far to walk.

For many seniors, assistive technology makes the difference between being able to live independently and having to get long-term nursing or home-health care. For others, it's critical to the ability to perform simple activities of daily living, like bathing and going to the bathroom. Many of those who use some form of assistive technology find they are able to reduce their dependence on others and continue to live independently.

Assistive technology can also reduce the costs of care for the elderly and their families. Although families may need to make monthly payments for some pieces of equipment, for many, this cost is much less than the cost of home-health or nursing-home care.

Just as older people may have many different types of disabilities, many different categories of assistive devices and services are available to help overcome those disabilities. These include the following:

  • Adaptive switches. Modified switches that seniors can use to adjust air conditioners, computers, telephone answering machines, power wheelchairs and other types of equipment. These switches might be activated by the tongue or the voice.
  • Communication equipment. Anything that enables a person to send and receive messages, like a telephone amplifier.
  • Computer access. Special software that helps a senior access the Internet, for example, or basic hardware, like a modified keyboard or mouse, that makes the computer more user friendly.
  • Education. Audio books or Braille writing tools for the blind come under this category, along with resources that allow people to get additional vocational training.
  • Home modifications. Construction or remodeling work, like building a ramp for wheelchair access, that allows a senior to overcome physical barriers and live more comfortably with a disability or recover from an accident or injury.
  • Tools for independent living. Anything that empowers the elderly to enjoy the normal activities of daily living without assistance from others, like a handicapped-accessible bathroom with grab bars in the bathtub.
  • Job-related items. Any device or process that a person needs to do his or her job better or easier. Examples might include a special type of chair or pillow for someone who works at a desk or a back brace for someone who does physical labor.
  • Mobility aids. Any piece of equipment that helps a senior get around more easily, like a power wheelchair, wheelchair lift or stair elevator.
  • Orthotic or prosthetic equipment. A device that compensates for a missing or disabled body part. This could range from orthopedic shoe inserts for someone who has fallen arches to an artificial arm for someone whose limb has been amputated.
  • Recreational assistance. New methods and tools to enable people who have disabilities to enjoy a wide range of fun activities. Examples include swimming lessons provided by recreational therapists or specially equipped skis for seniors who have lost a limb as a result of accident or illness.
  • Seating aids. Any modifications to regular chairs, wheelchairs, or motor scooters that help a person stay upright or get up and down unaided or that help to reduce pressure on the skin. This could be something as simple as an extra pillow or as complex as a motorized seat.
  • Sensory enhancements. Anything that makes it easier for those who are partially or fully blind or deaf to better appreciate the world around them. For instance, a telecaption decoder for a TV set would be an assistive device for a senior who is hard of hearing.
  • Therapy. Equipment or processes that help someone recover as much as possible from an illness or injury. Therapy might involve a combination of services and technology, like having a physical therapist use a special massage unit to restore a wider range of motion to stiff muscles.
  • Transportation assistance. Devices for elderly individuals that make it easier for them to get into and out of their cars or trucks and drive more safely, like adjustable mirrors, seats and steering wheels. Services that help the elderly maintain and register their vehicles, like a drive-up window at the department of motor vehicles, would also fall into this category.
More: 
What type of assistive technology is needed? 

Paying for assistive technology

Based on the U.S. Administration on Aging's Guide to Assistive Technology.