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  • Writer's pictureErin Hudgins

Smart Home Devices for Aging in Place

According to the AARP, about 55 million people over the age of 65 are currently living in the US, and 87% of them say they plan to live at home rather than transition to some sort of care facility. As our loved ones age in place, they will need a home that has been outfitted to accommodate some of the difficulties of old age, including reduced vision, decreased mobility and increased risk of falls. Smart-home devices can be there when you can't—providing a 24/7 connection to seniors as they live independently. New technologies including sensors, smoke alarms, and voice-activated speakers can make everyday life more convenient, safe, and social for seniors living their best lives.

Mesh WiFi

All the tech in the world is worthless if the WiFi in the home isn’t reliable. Health trackers, voice command technology, and smart hubs are only as effective as the internet connection that keeps them all online. Luckily, mesh wifi is the perfect support system for loved ones living independently. This technology uses multiple routers working together to channel high-speed internet to every corner of the house—helping seniors seamlessly move from room to room without losing connection. Mesh systems from Samsung, Google, and Eero (owned by Amazon) can all deliver this type of high-powered connectivity, making aging-in-place safer and more viable for your loved ones.

Samsung SmartThings Wi-Fi devices can be placed throughout your home to extend WiFi to every corner. Get a 3-pack for $279.

A whole-home Wi-Fi system forms a mesh network consisting of multiple wireless hubs to relay the internet connection from the modem. By spacing these hubs throughout the home, Wi-Fi coverage can be improved to avoid "dead zones."

Smart Security System

From unwanted intruders to disasters such as fires and flooding, safety is a major concern for elderly people living alone. According to a Bureau of Justice document, the elderly are often the target of robbery or home invasion because of their perceived vulnerability. A smart security system allows older residents to feel safer and have more control of their home, and offers peace of mind to family members living elsewhere. These devices can be installed to monitor doors, windows, and motion—triggering an alarm that notifies authorities or caregivers if there’s a problem. A system like Ring Alarm also works with smoke alarms, flood sensors, and freeze/temperature sensors. Seniors can share access to the Ring system with a caregiver, allowing that person to check in through a smartphone app and know that the temperature is comfortable, all the doors and windows are secure, and they'll be alerted if a smoke or CO alarm is triggered.

The 5-piece starter kit by Ring (owned by Amazon) makes it easy to build a whole-house security system slowly and with privacy in mind. It includes a base station, which connects the included keypad, door/window sensor, motion detector, and one range extender. The Ring system allows you to choose from self-monitoring or professional-monitoring modes—the latter of which costs only $10 a month. The New York Time's Wirecutter recommends the Ring Protect Plus professional monitoring for added security, calling it reliable and "one of the lowest prices [they've] seen."

Video Doorbells

For seniors with mobility issues, getting up to answer the door is a struggle, and many are reluctant to open the door after dark if they don’t know who’s knocking. A smart doorbell, such as this video doorbell from Ring, allows the homeowner to see who’s at the door and even speak to them via the app. Hardwired or battery operated, this device streams HD video to a smartphone, tablet or PC, and can even be used remotely when residents aren't at home. Some versions also include motion sensors and night vision for added security. Prices start at $100 for the basic model and get more expensive with additional features.

A video doorbell allows you to see and speak to your family even when social distancing. Use this step-by-step guide to set up the Ring App on your phone or tablet.

Voice-Activated Virtual Assistant

A smart speaker with a voice-activated virtual assistant, such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google's Nest, can be hugely helpful to seniors living alone. These devices function as both a tool and a digital companion—fostering better communication and easing the isolation that is common among older adults living alone.

Many voice-activated assistants can function as 'hubs' that connect to smart lights, switches, door locks, and other gadgets, allowing a senior to easily control their home simply by speaking. Voice control is key in making the smart home suitable for seniors, as it virtually eliminates the learning curve found in most technology that can be a huge barrier to the older generations.

Caregivers can set up voice-based check-ins and reminders to take medications, as well as encourage family members to use the device to listen to music, find out about the weather, and simply feel more connected.

Amazon's Echo Plus is the "smartest" Alexa. Find it here for $99.

Smart Smoke Detectors

Personal safety should always be a priority when making an aging-in-place plan with a loved one. The US Fire Administration (an entity of FEMA) says that people 65 and older are 2.5 times more likely to die in a fire than the population as a whole, making smart smoke detectors an essential life-saving tool. While everyone should already have working smoke detectors throughout their homes, there’s concern about how easily an older person can hear an alarm and quickly evacuate. Smart smoke detectors not only deliver an audible siren inside the house but can also alert friends, neighbors, and caregivers via smartphone alerts.

Smart Sensors

Sensors are tiny, low-powered devices that can be placed anywhere in your home. They work quietly in the background, monitoring activities such as motion without the intrusiveness of a camera. Every room in a house talks about the behavior of the person living there, and sensors can learn daily routines and flag any potential anomalies to caregivers.

This Fibaro motion sensor can monitor for intruders, but when connected to a smart home hub can also do useful tasks like turn on lights when you enter a room.

These devices can make your home responsive to you—motion sensors trigger lights to turn on when you enter a room, reducing the risk of fumbling for light switches and tripping or falling in the dark. A bed sensor, for example, can send an alert when the bed is empty, letting a caregiver know the person is up and about. This technology allows seniors to live independently while caretakers can monitor activity and receive alerts about any issues—such as lack of activity, a parent forgetting to take medication, or a fall.

Sources including the World Health Organization, the National Institute on Aging, and the Alzheimer’s Association, say that people with dementia often wander away from home. Contact sensors are small devices that you can attach to any door (or window) to alert you when doors have been opened, are safely shut, or have been left open for too long. When the sensors are attached to the front and back doors, you’ll know when someone is coming and going. A sensor on the refrigerator door lets you know if your loved one is remembering to eat; one installed on a medicine cabinet can tell a caregiver when it’s been accessed, and how many times.

Walabot Home Fall Detector Device

Falling is a leading cause of hospitalization for seniors, and the situation can quickly become dangerous if help is slow to arrive. A device called Walabot Home addresses this problem by detecting if a loved one has fallen and automatically placing a call for help. Users don't need to press a button or wear a fall detection device—the Walabot uses sensors and radio waves to monitor motion and detect falls, and then opens a two-way communication channel on the device.

The Walabot Home can be placed on a bathroom wall or countertop and scans constantly for movement. Get it here for $269.

Sense Energy Monitoring Device

The Sense energy monitoring device installs in your electrical panel and learns about the different devices working in your home. Get it here for $299.

Sense is a whole home electrical monitoring system that connects to the electrical panel. Designed to track energy usage, it can also tell what devices are on or off in a home and let you turn them off from the Sense app (when connected to a smart plug).

A caregiver who has access to the app can remotely monitor activity in the house, receiving alerts when devices turn on or off (and for how long). This allows loved ones to keep track of normal activity, and take note when it hasn't occurred. For example, you could set an alert to tell you if the microwave turned on in the morning, and if you don’t receive the alert, you know to call and check to see if everything’s okay. Or maybe you notice the stovetop has been on all day and nobody's home. These devices offer valuable glimpses of life and can be installed and set up by a licensed electrician in a couple of hours.

For more information on aging-in-place technology or if you need help setting up a system in your home, give the trusted professionals at Bell Electric a call at 540.552.5397

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