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Tools for Independent Living

New gadgets can help ease the challenges of aging.

In our gadget-obsessed culture, one market is still not saturated: tools expressly designed to ease the challenges of aging. Fortunately, businesses and solo inventors have begun introducing an array of clever devices to fill that gap. 

“Companies are paying attention because boomers are willing to spend the money to help mom and dad stay in their home as long as they can,” says Andrew Carle, director of the Program in Assisted Living/Senior Housing Administration at Virginia’s George Mason University. “At the same time, the boomers are taking a look at what’s ahead for them.”

Among the newest products:

iRobot’s Looj is from the company that sells the popular Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners. Cleaning rain gutters is a chore for any homeowner, and hanging on a ladder can be dangerous. The Looj robot motors down gutters, using a fan and brush to clear away leaves and debris. ($99 to $169; online and at retail stores)

Loc8tor is one of several systems using small radio frequency tags to help find easily lost belongings—think keys and wallets—with a hand-held tracking device. The Loc8tor has a range of up to 600 feet, much greater than most systems, so it can locate a car in a parking lot or even keep track of a wandering adult or child. ($79.99 and up; online and at The Sharper Image)

The Easy Handle is the invention of Charles Struzzieri, who watched his mother struggle to reach the position-adjustment lever beneath her car seat. Struzzieri devised a simple, adjustable rubber handle that makes it easy to pull the seat lever without bending down. ($14.95;

The FotoDialer connects to standard phones and looks like a high-tech photo album, with six pages holding four photos each. But beside each photo is a button: Simply press and the person’s phone number is automatically dialed—valuable for those who have difficulty reading or are in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. ($54.99 to $60; at online stores)

Lids Off Automatic Jar Opener by Black & Decker opens almost any jar with the push of a button. The company recently introduced a compact model that fits under or inside cabinets, featuring a rubberized surface for a better grip and an improved ergonomic design. ($49.98; widely available)

TV Ears helps the hard of hearing enjoy television. The wireless device limits the sound of commercials and boosts dialogue above background music. “It’s ideal for those millions of people who have some hearing loss, but it’s not severe enough that they need to go to an audiologist,” says company CEO George Dennis. ($99 to $399;