The generation that snatched up the first Walkman music players, VCRs, home computers and game consoles continues to rely on technological advances as we grow older, with a host of devices that tackle health care challenges in innovative ways. These cutting-edge products combine clever design with digital smarts to make our lives safer and simpler.
1. Adjustable-focus eyeglasses
As we move through middle age and beyond, many of us require glasses for both near and far viewing, meaning a switch to bifocal or progressive lenses. The snag here is that only a small portion of the lens has the right focusing power for any given distance, making certain tasks — like watching TV while lying down — very difficult, and leaving sections of your field of vision looking blurry. That's where the ingenious PixelOptics emPower! glasses come in, with electronic lenses that turn the reading portion of the lens on and off depending on where you're looking. The change can be made manually (by tapping the side of the frame) or automatically, so when you tilt your head downward, the reading area refocuses. Even with the sophisticated built-in electronics, the emPower! models look like ordinary eyeglasses. They have to be recharged roughly every two days.
Cost: About $1,200
2. Smart blood pressure monitor
Home blood pressure monitors have been around for years, but Withings makes it easy to keep track of potentially significant changes over time with its digital model, which connects to an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch. Downloadable software controls the blood pressure cuff to take a reading, and that reading is then stored on the device, noting both the date and the time of day. You can view the history in graph form, and the results can even be shared with your doctor via email, uploaded to your personal page on Microsoft HealthVault, and tracked with several popular health care software programs.
3. Ultra-portable ultrasound
This one's a real breakthrough for medical professionals: an ultrasound system consisting of a probe and a smartphone loaded with appropriate software, creating a highly portable imaging system that can share results with remote experts instantly over the cellular network. While most of us think of ultrasound as a tool for monitoring pregnancies, it's also used by doctors for diagnostic purposes in abdominal, cardiac, pelvic and peripheral vessel imaging. In addition to its portability, price is a major drawing card for the MobiUS system — it's $7,500, where traditional ultrasound systems cost tens of thousands of dollars, making the technology available much more widely.