Gizmo Guy: Tech steps in to help aging boomers

The Raleigh Sprite IE electric bike has a light (four-pound) pack of high-capacity, rechargeable lithium ion battery cells.

Boomers are not aging without a fight. We crave exercise and culture, aim to stay independent. The body and mind do not always cooperate. But with help from today's "silver-centric" electronics, staying active and on top of the game is in our grasp.

Hear, here. Can't always make out the dialogue on TV shows? The villains are the dinky speakers in flat panel TVs, conspiring with the loss of higher frequency sensitivity in aging ears.

Powered TV speaker systems such as the Zvox SoundBase 670 and Cambridge Audio TV5 (both $399) that fit under a TV set offer a special voice-enhance listening mode that clarifies dialogue some.

For private listening, a wireless headphone system is better, as you can crank up the volume of the cordless headset to your personal best level, while family and friends make do with what's coming out of the TV. With a comfy, well-performing cordless headphone system such as the Sennheiser RS120 ($70 to $100), the transmitter plugs into analog (red and white) audio output jacks or the "mini" headphone jack of a TV or cable box.

If your set has only an optical ("Toslink") digital audio jack available, one not-too-expensive ($120) solution spotted on bundles Sony MDR-RF985RK wireless headphones with a DB Tech digital-to-analog signal converter.

Bicyclist's best friend. Aging boomers are a big part of the market in Europe and United States for the newest breed of "pedal-assisted" electric bikes, said Larry Pizzi, Accell Group North America exec (and former Philadelphia bike store owner).

"Boomers like the idea of getting out in the fresh air, going for a long ride, maintaining a level of fitness," Pizzi said. "But sometimes their ambitions exceed their staying power."

No sweat, if you're riding on a just-launching Raleigh Sprite IE or virtually identical IZIP Vibe+, both selling in the $1,800 to $2,100 range "with a quality level that used to cost $3,000 to $4,000 just a couple years ago," Pizzi said.

In these best-of-both-worlds unisex (step-through framed) bikes, you may use just your own pedal power to get from here to there. Then, with a flip of a switch, a modest four-pound pack of high-capacity, rechargeable lithium ion battery cells (akin to those in a Tesla automobile) engages a high-torque, center-crank driven electric motor to bring you home, even if it's 50 to 75 miles away. The power assist magnifies the pedaling you're nominally doing by up to 280 percent!

It used to be a "deal" to get 12 miles of boost from a set of lead acid batteries on an electric bike, which added 16 to 19 pounds of dead weight. And if the battery went dead, pedaling was a strain. (The Raleigh and IZIP bikes weigh 42 pounds. That's 20 percent lighter than our town's popular Indego bike-share rides.)

Want a little assist, all the time? "Sensor technology knows when you're pedaling easy or with great force - like going up a hill - and can augment the power assist accordingly," Pizzi said. Conversely, the circuitry "shuts off power assist when you hit a top speed of 20 m.p.h."

That's done so riders can legally/safely share bike paths with other cyclists and walkers in Pennsylvania and Delaware, states that categorize these hybrids the same as an all-mechanical bicycle.

Not so in unenlightened New Jersey, where pedal-assisted bikes are still lumped with mopeds, and can't be ridden on the bike infrastructure.

Eyesight to the blind. Apple is pitching the new $799-plus iPad Pro to business users, but elders may also jump on the tablets.

No weightier than the original 9.7-inch iPad, the Pro boasts a significantly sharper 12.9-inch screen that makes reading anything easy for folks whose eyesight ain't what it used to be. And with a book app such as Kindle - yes, the Amazon service runs on iPads, too - you can tap the "Aa" tab and scale up the type font to enormous, top-of-the-eye-chart dimensions.

Let 'em go. A senior suffering from Alzheimer's might leave home without wallet, ID bracelet, clip-on tracker, or mobile phone.

But it's highly unlikely that he/she will walk out without shoes on, the logic behind the GPS Smart Sole tracking device.

Slipped into one shoe, this "assistive wearable" sends alerts to a guardian's smartphone app that the wearer has left the house, then keeps updating the person's location. The device costs $355, including activation; the monthly tracking fee is $25 to $30, steep when you consider that the system is using data, not voice. But what cost peace of mind?

Snapfon, a cell phone for seniors, offers a thoughtful combination of features at an attractive price. The phone (ezTWO) is free with any Snap Mobile 3G GSM service (starting at $10 a month) or $79.99 if used with AT&T or T-Mobile plans.

It has big buttons, large fonts and simplified menus for easy use, and can speak a phone number out loud as entered. When depressed for five seconds, a red "SOS" button on the rear sends text messages to up to five contacts, then calls them in order until someone answers.

The same button also can be deployed for a life-alert response service priced at $15 a month, half that of competitors. And when going with Snapfon's no-contract service, you get a free handset replacement if it's damaged in any way.