The Apple Watch may be advertised as a device for virile young twenty-somethings who are always out running or climbing mountains, but that’s not really the profile of most people who wear them. At least, not at the Macworld offices. But, they are fantastic devices if you want to keep an eye on your health, be sure not to miss notifications on your iPhone and in the case of the elderly they can also be something of a lifesaver. If you’re thinking of whether to get one of your older family members an Apple Watch, then here’s all you need to know.
Do they need an iPhone?
It might seem a basic question, but the Apple Watch isn’t that useful if you give it to someone with an Android phone or even a classic non-smartphone. They only work with iPhones and that’s very likely the way it will stay (although there are rumors that Apple will allow management via iPads and Macs). So, the most important first question to answer is whether the person in question has an iPhone or not. If they do, great, otherwise we’d recommend looking for one of the models on our sister-site Tech Advisor’s best smartwatch or best fitness tracker roundups.
That being said, you can set up an Apple Watch on your iPhone and then give it to your elderly relative or friend. You can then use some of the health monitoring features to ensure they’re safe. Here’s a rundown of all the things an Apple Watch can do without an iPhone.
For more information about the current range of Apple Watches read our guide to the Best Apple Watch. We can also help you save money, read: The best Apple Watch deals this month.
What makes an Apple Watch good for older people?
Aside from the handy ability of not having to keep getting your iPhone out of a bag or pocket when messages come in, an Apple Watch can also be very useful in terms of monitoring the current health of an older person (and a younger one for that matter). Some models come with an ECG sensor, which can detect heart problems or variances that might suggest conditions such as atrial fibrillation. Some have SpO2 sensors to measure blood oxygen levels, again this can warn if the wearer is getting into difficulties, potentially due to respiratory problems. There’s also a fall detection feature that can sense when someone takes a tumble and might not be ok. And if they do need to call the emergency services they can do so from an Apple Watch.
You can also set up the Find My capabilities on Apple Watch models that have GPS tracking capabilities. This will show you someone’s current location and can be very helpful if the person in question suffers from memory issues and may wander off.
Aside from these more serious use cases, there’s also the simple truth that as hearing starts to diminish, having a notification come up on your wrist can mean you don’t miss important calls or messages.
Which is the best Apple Watch to buy for seniors?
As with most tech purchases, this depends on what you want and the budget you have available. We’d say that unless your family member or friend is the outward-bound type that’s likely to go canoeing through ravines, the Apple Watch Ultra will be overkill. It’s large, heavy and costs a small fortune. So, here’s our pick of the current crop:
1. Apple Watch Series 8
Price When Reviewed:
$399 (GPS only)
If you want the best blend of features then the Apple Watch Series 8 is the obvious choice. Not only does it have around 20% more display space than the cheaper Apple Watch SE–which is ideal if your eyes aren’t as good as they were–it also comes loaded with many of the important safety features listed above. This means you get the third generation heart sensor, electrocardiogram (ECG) to monitor for irregular heart rhythms, plus there’s also the blood oxygen (SpO2) sensor to keep an eye on other potential health risks.
Fall Detection is present, as is Crash Detection, which can sense if the wearer has potentially been in an automobile accident. It’s also water resistant to 50 meters, so you don’t need to take it off when doing the washing up.
Aside from these features, it also comes with GPS as standard, has an Always-On display so you can always see the time and tell at a glance what notifications have come in. It comes in two sizes – 45mm and 41mm – so it can fit dainty or beefy wrists.
Read our full
Apple Watch Series 8 review
2. Apple Watch SE (2022)
Price When Reviewed:
While the Apple Watch SE might not boast as many sensors as its bigger brother, there’s still plenty to love about this less expensive model. You still get the heart monitoring feature, albeit with the second-generation optical sensor. Unfortunately, there is no ECG to warn against high or low heart rates and irregular rhythms. But there is Fall Detection and Crash Detection onboard, plus the SE is waterproof up to 50 meters, just like the Series 8.
The display is slightly smaller than the Series 8, which could be an issue if the intended recipient has poor eyesight, but the 41mm and 44mm models still have clear and bright panels that do a great job of relaying information.
GPS is standard and you can add cellular capabilities to increase what the Watch can do without an iPhone (the Series 8 has this option too).
For many of the features older users would require, the Apple Watch SE is a very good option, especially as it costs quite a lot less than the Series 8.
3. Apple Watch Series 7
Price When Reviewed:
If you’re happy to delve into the used or refurbished market, then the 2021 Apple Watch Series 7 is an excellent option. It’s the same size as the Series 8 and shares many of the features of the Apple Watch SE, with some notable differences. The main ones are that the Series 7 comes equipped with both ECG and blood oxygen monitoring, neither of which are available on the SE.
The SE does come with an S8 SiP chipset (the same as the Series 8) while the Series 7 is fitted with the S7, but the difference between the S7 and S8 is minimal and the older model will be good enough for most people. Thankfully all of the Apple Watch models on the list are rated for 18 hours of battery life, so they’ll get your loved one through a full day without any problems.
Apple is selling refurbished Apple Watch Series 7 at its Refurbished Store for $299 / £399 and Amazon has used models for even less. If you can find a refurbished Apple Watch Series 7 for a good price then it’s definitely one to consider as it might save you some money while giving you more advanced features than on the SE. For more information read: Should I buy a refurbished Apple Watch?
To see what Apple has in store for its smartwatch platform, you can also read our guide to the upcoming Apple Watch Series 9.
Wondering if you need cellular? Read: The pros and cons of a cellular Apple Watch.