It’s been said that necessity is the mother of invention.
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While this proverb is frequently true, I can say from my time in the consumer products industry that it isn’t always the case.
Based upon marketplace staying power, Ben-Gay aspirin, Quisp and Quake cereals, and New Coke weren’t really necessities. The mothers of invention in those cases were probably the potential for higher profit margins or expanded product categories; in some cases they may have been a brand manager’s crazy idea that just went too far.
Not being necessities, I suppose, these products never withstood the test of time.
With so many people in our society entering seniorhood, mothers (and fathers) of invention will have lots of opportunities to devise new ways to address the needs of an aging population.
Listed below is a small sampling of little inventions that have made a big difference in the lives of those on the other side of 50.
For people with failing eyesight, a $1.99 iPhone app called the EyeReader turns an iPhone into a lighted magnifying glass. Since smartphones are almost everyone’s permanent personal accessory these days, scrambling for forgotten reading glasses to scan the restaurant dinner menu may be a thing of the past.
For those who leave doctor visits not remembering what the doctor said, there’s a handy tool called a USB Pen Drive Digital Audio Voice Recorder. Priced at about $9, this tiny device records hours of content and replays it when plugged into a computer. Today, in the peace and privacy of your own home, you or a loved one can listen again to your doctor’s instructions.
For those whose balance is a bit wobbly, suction-grip shower grab bars offer great support and added safety. Hanging onto a grab bar while washing your feet gives new meaning to the word self-reliance.
And for those who are continence challenged, new products like Depend Silhouette for Women, Depend Real Fit for Men, and Prevail Boxers offer thinner, more comfortable pairs of disposable briefs that look and feel like cotton underwear. As one of the ads says, these new products can make wearing a different kind of underwear no big deal.
Oftentimes, the unsung mothers of invention turn out to be sons, daughters and other family caregivers who are experimenting to find the right solution to a loved one’s needs.
Just last week I had the joy of visiting my mom and dad in New Hampshire. My dad, a great lover of tools, wanted us to take him to Harbor Freight in Nashua. With my husband pushing my dad in his wheelchair and me in tow, I began to look at the tool store as an inventor’s war chest.
For a long while I have been looking for a buzzer that my dad can use to call my mom when he’s woken up from a nap.
Parkinson’s has taken away my dad’s ability to get out of bed on his own, and his voice has diminished, also a result of Parkinson’s, so shouting to my mom is not an option.
Up until now, my dad has used a little device that makes a clicking sound to call my mom. It works if my mom is sitting quietly, but if the TV is on or she is cooking, it’s hard to hear.
As I walked the tool store, serendipity struck.
I stumbled across a doorbell for $11 which made a loud but pleasant sound. I brought it home and fastened the button to my dad’s bed rail. I then added batteries to the chime box and placed it in the TV room.
My dad pressed the button and holy cow—a beautiful tone emerged that was loud enough for my mom to hear. What’s even better is that my mom can bring the chime box with her, to the basement, to the front porch or to the backyard.
It seemed so simple; I am not sure why we never thought of it before. I know there are many mothers of invention out there. This is your call to ring your bell for seniors everywhere.
Send a great idea (or two) that you’ve discovered while solving the needs of an aging loved to email@example.com. With your permission, they will be printed in a future column.