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7 Low-Tech Gadgets You Really Need

Easy-to-use products that can make life easier for the 50-plus crowd

By Linda Bernstein

Who doesn’t remember the Veg-O-Matic? It sliced. It diced. It made our fingers bleed. Or the Roomba, the disc-shaped vacuum that could change direction when encountering obstacles and doubled as a fun ride for a cat wearing a shark costume. (Both still available for purchase, cat not included.)
Actual experience with no-brand gizmos advertised on late-night TV has made us rightfully suspicious of many gadgets. We’re dubious about yet another product that looks like it was invented in a neighbor’s basement. Another big turn-off are implements that pass themselves off as “older-people-friendly,” but seem better suited to the Easy Bake Oven crowd (like, for instance, the OptiGrill, a George Foreman Grill knock-off).
At Next Avenue, we’ve been reviewing doodads and thingamajigs that really are perfect for 50-plussers. They’re easy to use, protect our bodies from wear and tear and perform important functions. You really need these gadgets!

(MORE: Five New Gadgets to Make You Healthier)

Gtech AirRam While we’re on the subject of vacuum cleaners (I know you watched that cat video) — I tested out Gtech’s AirRam right after a hair-shedding dog paid a visit. The AirRam cleaned the floors well. It’s efficient, easy to maneuver and bagless. For heavy-duty cleaning, I’d still want something powerful with a hose that can get into corners and be fitted with an attachment to tackle upholstery. But I love how at 7.7 pounds, the AirRam is easier to lift than the free weights I use at the gym. In “flat mode,” it devours the dust bunnies under the bed.

The 50-plus advantage: It’s “look ma, I can lift this with one hand” light.

Other pros: Because it works on a battery, you don’t have to worry about an electric cord knocking over stuff or continually re-plugging the machine.

Cons: Battery life is only 40 minutes. For a thorough house cleaning, I need more time.

Price: $349.95

EZLeaps This shoe tying tool almost made it into my “totally ridiculous ideas” folder. After all, with Velcro and slip-ons, who really needs to tie shoes these days? But then . . . a friend who was sitting on a chair in my kitchen, fussing with her purple Converse high-tops, started complaining about a bit of arthritis in her fingers, and I handed her the business card-size EZLeaps and the instructions (video available on the website). In a minute, she was well shod and ready to go.

The 50-plus advantage: Invented for little kids, EZLeaps seems to have a second life since there is a huge cohort out there whose fingers are growing stiffer.

Other pros: Takes up no space in your wallet.

Cons: You may feel awkward using it — but at least you won’t be tripping over your laces.

Price: $5.49

(MORE: Top 5 Tips to Get More Out of Your Gadgets)

Briefcase Grater For heavy-duty grating (think pounds of potatoes and lots of onions for latkes, the Hanukkah treat I cook up once a year), I prefer using my food processor. But for smaller jobs, like lemon zest I need for a cake, I usually use a handheld grater so I don’t have to lug out and clean the large machine. I was pleased to discover the Briefcase Grater, from Umbra, because: 1) I don’t have to use a bowl and a grater, and 2) the handle holds the contraption steady so I’m less likely to scrape my knuckles. Each side has a different size grater, and what you grate goes into the center container that is marked in cups and milliliters.

The 50-plus advantage: The handle helps you keep the grater steady without exerting pressure that might hurt your hand, wrist or shoulder.

Other pros: You can throw all the pieces into the dishwasher.

Cons: This handy item is really only for small jobs. I can’t see using it for a chunk of Parmesan cheese.

Price: $15.00

D-Link WiFi Smart Plug The “highest” tech item in our roundup, this device is truly easy to use and a simple entry point into home automation through your smartphone. (Last year’s Pew Research study showed growing adoption of smartphones in the 50-plus bracket. Bring it on, app inventors.) Stick the Smart Plug into an electric outlet in your home and download an app on your phone. Next, plug, say, a lamp into the device. Now imagine you’re about to return to a dark home. Whip out your cell and — thanks to Smart Plug — turn on the lights.

The 50-plus advantage: No more fumbling in the dark because you forgot to leave on a light.

Other pros: Instead of letting your air conditioner on all day, you can power it up through your smartphone right before coming home and save on electric bills.

Cons: None, really, although you need to have cellphone access (either on your carrier’s network or WiFi) to work the Smart Plug.

Price: $49.99
(MORE: 6 Things Technology Still Can't Do (Darn It))


Elfa's Poppy Square Shopping Cart Living in an apartment in a large city, I rely on my shopping cart for doing laundry (building washers and dryers are in the basement), as well as transporting bags of groceries home from the supermarket. Lately, though, when I’m visiting suburban malls I have noticed many shoppers dragging carts behind them as they traverse the endless walkways between stores. Such a good idea! The lightweight (5 pounds) Poppy Square Shopping Cart holds up to 40 pounds and has several pockets, one of them insulated to keep perishables cold or prepared food warm.

The 50-plus advantage: You know how your shoulders and arms ache when you’re carrying several grocery or shopping bags? Yeah, the cart fixes that.

Other pros: Folded, the cart fits easily into a closet. Or you can keep it in your car trunk.

Cons: The cloth liner can get grimy, but it’s detachable for cleaning.

Price: $59.00

Premium Folding Step Stool Those top shelves where I store rarely-used items? Well, “rarely used” doesn’t mean “never used,” and reaching them has become a bit problematic since apparently I have shrunk a bit in the past few years. So has everyone over 40. What we all need from a safety standpoint is a sturdy stepstool. Recently, I watched in horror as a friend climbed a rickety plastic one-step stool and then rose to her toes to dust the blades on a ceiling fan. She did indeed fall. (Luckily the only damage was a bruise on her hip.) So I went on an Internet search and found this two-step model manufactured by Elfa and emailed my friend the link.

The 50-plus advantage: The curved handle at the top is high enough to grab if you’re feeling at all unsteady. It also means you don’t have to stoop to fold it up.

Other pros: The steps are wide and non-slip.

Cons: I’d prefer a deeper bottom step.

Price: $29.99

Whiz Whisk Every cook needs a whisk. People over 50 need one that doesn’t strain our wrists, elbows and shoulders too much. “Easy to clean” would also be on our wish list. Jordan Murphy of Umbra has designed a version of this kitchen tool that meets these criteria.

The 50-plus advantage: Lightweight and balanced, the Whiz Whisk means we can scramble eggs or whip up some batter without tiring or hurting our joints.

Other pros: The best thing: The easy-grip handle opens up so the whisk lies flat. That way, you don’t have to struggle to get the cake batter off of the inside loops.

Cons: The color choices. Maybe they could make it in white?

Price: $12
One product that came to Next Avenue’s attention while this piece was in progress induced a “shake my head.” The Pee Pocket is supposed to help women urinate while standing up. I imagine that it might be useful for travelers avoiding toilet seats, but, basically, I felt like I had stepped into an episode of  Orange Is The New Black.

Pee Pocket aside, inventors seem finally to be realizing that there are about 100 million people in the U.S. between the ages of 50 and 65 who would love doohickeys and tools that save wear and tear on our bodies and are easy to use. At Next Avenue, we’ll keep our eyes out for useful items and report back soon. Meanwhile, if there’s anything you’ve discovered, let us know!

Linda Bernstein has written hundreds of articles for dozens of magazines and newspapers, writes the blog GenerationBsquared and teaches journalism at Long Island University, Brooklyn. Read More
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