A 94-year-old Rhode Islander creates a technological device to make using a walker more comfortable

A 94-year-old Rhode Islander creates a technological device to make using a walker more comfortable

A 94-year-old Rhode Islander creates a technological device to make using a walker more comfortable

She remembered how her mother enjoyed feeding the birds, and “Walker Squawker” born. Created next to Joy for all pets and Ageless InnovationWalker Squawker is a playful, animatronic bird that sits on the walkers and serves as a personal “buddy”.

Ageless Innovation, a Pawtucket-based company that creates products for seniors designed to alleviate feelings of isolation, loneliness and cognitive decline. It is led by the CEO and co-founder Ted Fischerwho started the company at Hasbro Toys before spinning it off into his own company.

Q: How does Walker Squawker work?

Fischer: The bird responds to touch after you turn it on. As you pet it, it will make different sounds that are native to this species. On the walker, you place it on top of the universal walking beam where it attaches to the magnet. When you put it there, it changes modes and starts singing songs. It recognizes when you move the walker and continues to sing. When you stop, it will stop and then remind you to use the walker.

How to turn it on and off? Is it difficult, or is it accessible to everyone?

Fischer: You press the button on the tail. It couldn’t be easier to use.

Walker is available in both cardinal and blue jay. Why did you create those two choices?

melon: When you are in a nursing home at Christmas time, the staff usually decorate the area. Nursing homes also help decorate their residents’ walkers in “Christmas mode”. Cardinal is very bright and attractive. When one feels the bird, it is soft to the touch and catches the eye. About the blue jay: They made a Shirley Temple movie years ago called Blue bird of happiness. A lot of people my age still resonate with that movie.

[Also, when Melone and her husband were first engaged, he gifted her a cedar chest with a blue bird of happiness inside.]

Rita Melone, 94, invented the Walker Squawker, a playful, interactive bird that reminds people to use their walkers.Michelle Carpenter Photography

Rita, are you working on any other product ideas?

melon: I can’t reveal them at this time! They are secret. My mind is always going. I live at home now. A woman should never tell her age, but in a few months I will be 95 the day after Christmas.

How much does Walker Squawker cost and when will it be available?

Fischer: We suggest it retails for around $65. We just bring them up to people so we don’t have any anecdotal stories other than Rita’s friends and peers. Rita recently went to a local walking club and there people tried out the Walker Squawker.

Will it be covered by insurance?

Fischer: We have two very different channels: one is retail and the other is healthcare. It’s been like that since the beginning of our business. Our original pets [available in cats and dogs] have been confirmed through studies and research by colleagues [through AARP and UnitedHealthcare, James Madison University, the American Journal of Medicine, among dozens of other clinical studies] to have a significant impact on older people suffering from loneliness, isolation, dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Our original pets were first approved by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to be covered by Medicare and Medicaid in 2020. We are covered by national plans nationwide in those products and anticipate that Walker will eventually be as well.

Have you done any clinical trials on the Walker Squawker yet?

Fischer: We are about to begin that research. New York State is a partner, having pre-ordered several thousand of these. They will test them, research them to confirm Walker’s influence. We really bought into Rita’s vision, which was something fun and interesting that helps you remember to use your walker, but shows the playful side of aging — which isn’t something a lot of people focus on.

The Boston Globe’s weekly Ocean State Innovators column features a Q&A with Rhode Island innovators who are starting new businesses and nonprofits, conducting groundbreaking research and reshaping the state’s economy. Send tips and suggestions to journalist Alexa Gagosz at [email protected].

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz and on Instagram @AlexaGagosz.

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