When smart homes come to mind, most people may think of tech-savvy millennials with smartphones and devices synced up to everything in their home. But seniors and aging Americans can benefit tremendously from user-friendly smart home technology, too.
Health-monitoring systems, automated lighting and temperature controls, and voice commands to help with daily tasks are just some of the smart home features that can help seniors age in place.
Aging in place is a person’s ability to live in their home and on their own terms as they grow older, sometimes with the help of caregivers or assistive technologies. Life expectancy is on the rise: The World Health Organization estimates that the number of people aged 80 years will almost quadruple to 395 million between now and 2050. The Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University estimates that by 2035, one-third of U.S. households will be headed by a 65-year-old or older.
Innovative technology is playing a major role in helping seniors live comfortably at home while providing their loved ones with peace of mind. Adults 50 and older are curious about smart home technology and devices that provide convenience and safety, according to AARP, formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons. They’re especially interested in home security tech, like door cameras, sensors that monitor doors and windows, and smart appliances, according to their 2020 report.
Here’s a look at 11 smart home features geared at helping the elderly live comfortably at home:
Smart thermostats are becoming commonplace in family homes of all shapes and sizes, whether households have young children right up to seniors living independently. They allow you to “set it and forget it,” so you can plug in your preferences for how you’d like to heat and cool your home throughout the day. You can even control the temperature remotely on a smartphone, so family members can check on their elderly parents’ home and make adjustments if needed. If your parents want to turn up the temperature on a chilly night, they can do so without having to get out of bed.
Smart thermostats can even identify when no one’s home and lower the heating or cooling until your loved one comes home.
If your elderly parents live in cooler climates, they may opt for heated floors in the kitchen and bathroom, with easy-to-use controls synced with their smartphones.
If seniors are living with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, you may be worried about them leaving the lights on, faucets running, or – in a worst-case scenario – keeping the stove or oven on. Appliance monitoring systems allow anyone to turn off appliances, even remotely, and alert you if any unusual activity is detected. Smart lighting can connect to the household’s Wi-Fi so it can be controlled on a smartphone app too, saving seniors a trip to the light switch. Smart blinds can also function via smartphone for elderly parents who have trouble with balance or reach.
Smart thermostats and automated lighting are a big help with energy efficiency too, lowering utility bills. You can pre-set the time for lights to turn on and off, saving energy while keeping your loved ones safe in well-lit homes.
Automated doors and cabinets help seniors navigate their homes; they can avoid struggling to open heavy doors, especially if they’re wheelchair-bound or rely on a walker or crutches.
Most homes built for aging in place feature safety handrails, walk-in bathtubs and adjustable furniture. Toilets, countertops, tables and chairs can be adjusted to their height.
Smart Assistants and Smart Speakers
Alexa, Amazon Echo and Siri are household names these days. Smart assistants are changing everyday households, performing tasks through voice command, from booking meetings, to reporting the sports score, or sending a text while our hands are full.
A 2018 report estimates that 20 percent of Americans had a smart speaker in their home. These devices are utilized predominantly in the kitchen (41 percent of the time) and living room (46 percent). Individuals ask questions, stream content, set alarms or timers, and listen to the news.
Smart assistants can help seniors accomplish everyday tasks with ease, including:
Making phone calls and sending texts
We have all taught our grandparents how to navigate a smartphone keyboard, which can be a difficult learning experience. Smart assistants can help seniors communicate without touching a phone. This is a convenient tool but it’s also incredibly helpful in case they slip and fall, or have difficulty with mobility. This way, they can simply use their voice command to call for help.
Seniors can also dictate a text or ask their smart speaker to call someone.
Through simple voice commands, seniors can play music, videos, read e-books and listen to the radio. Your parents won’t have to fiddle with DVD players and hard-to-navigate apps anymore.
Shopping for the home
For elderly consumers who do not have the ability to do their own shopping, families can program smart assistants to order essentials online so the fridge is always stocked. Kitchen staples like bread, milk and eggs can be delivered to the home on a weekly basis.
Personal assistant in the kitchen
Elderly parents may need a hand reading recipes, setting timers, or using the stovetop and oven. Smart assistants can help users every step of the way; seniors can ask for a step-by-step walk through a recipe, or ask Siri or Alexa to set a timer. They can even operate their oven with their smartphone. Some Smart faucets follow voice-activated temperature control commands.
With smart ovens, users can switch them on and off from afar, preheat the oven while on the way home, and even ask for cooking notifications to be sent to their smartphone.
Smart refrigerators are another innovation making waves in smart home technology. These high-tech appliances can detect how much food – and what type – is in the fridge, along with expiry dates. They use barcodes and RFID (radio frequency identification) to read manufacturer details. If items are about to hit their best before date or if your fridge is running low on certain ingredients, the system will send notifications.
Between smart fridges and smart assistants, your parents should be well stocked with fresh groceries.
Smart Door Locks
Misplaced keys can annoy anyone, especially seniors. One ideal alternative is a keyless smart lock, which is activated by a digital code.
You can include several door lock codes so caregivers can have access to the home, too. The lock can be controlled via smartphone so if a senior wants to double check its status, they can do so from bed.
Home security becomes a bigger priority for aging homeowners as they may be victims of robberies or home invasions. If families are worried about safety and security, there are several smart home features on the market.
Setting up smart security cameras can help seniors see who is outside of the home, at the front door, inside of the home, or in the backyard. One safety feature is that elderly homeowners can see who is ringing the doorbell from anywhere in the house.
Smart alarm systems can help you monitor your home from any location via a smartphone app, and motion sensors throughout the home can reveal if someone has fallen or if there is a risk of a break-in or forced entry. If anything seems sinister, home security systems will send alerts.
According to AARP data, 59 percent of seniors are interested in cameras that can reveal who is at their front door or on the driveway; the other group would like to set up alarms to indicate when a door or window has been opened or closed.
Medic Alert Tech
From necklaces to bracelets and other wearable tech, seniors have lots of medic alert options. This tech, called personal emergency response system – or PERS – is a portable emergency button that users press to call for immediate help.
Medic alert wearable tech stores a patient’s health and personal information, which is kept in their personal emergency health record. Having these vital details on hand helps first responders quickly learn of the person’s medical conditions, medications, allergies and surgical history.
If the PERS is linked to a smartphone or a smart assistant, it can be voice activated.
Smart Pill Dispensers
Primary caregivers and family members concerned about whether their elderly parents are taking their medication on time can invest in smart pill dispensers. These dispensers sync up to smartphones and tablets and use sensors in each pill slot to track when users are taking their meds. Based on this intel, the system can send reminders to take medications.
A voice assistant can also remind elderly users when to take their medications, what dosage to take, and even describe the pills.
Heath Monitoring Tech
As seniors age, they develop more chronic diseases that require 24/7 management like diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. Thankfully, major advances in technology have made it so much easier to live with these conditions and monitor health. These tools are a one-stop shop, providing users with the resources to collect their vital signs, record their daily health like blood sugar levels, blood pressure, heart rate and relay this information to their doctors and healthcare providers. They can even, in some cases, dispense medication.
For diabetes management, for example, patients can use skin patches that record blood glucose levels in sweat or blood. The data is sent to users’ smartphones, and then insulin dosages are adjusted based on glucose measurements. Some are intricately detailed, recording intake of carbs, daily insulin dosages and physical activity.
The AARP suggests that 76 percent of Americans who are 50 and older want to age in place, with home assistants and home health care tech as their key to some independence. Fifty-three percent said they would prefer to have their health care needs managed by a mix of in-person care and health technology.
For elderly homeowners living with dementia or Alzheimer’s, there is a risk of leaving the home and getting lost and confused. To prevent accidental wandering, seniors can wear devices that attach to their clothing. Devices record a daily timeline of locations, travel route, and transit speed, which is shared with caregivers and family members. If anything seems irregular, the tech will alert loved ones immediately.
Some of these wearable tracking devices provide audio so family members can hear what is happening in the vicinity of their elderly parents.
Geofencing devices can be set up to create GPS-enabled “safe zones.” If your loved one wanders outside of these parameters, immediate notifications will be sent.
These smart home tools are often touted as potential life-savers.
Smart Cleaning Devices
Robotic cleaning tools are great for seniors who lack the physical agility to keep the house clean.
The Roomba is a decades-old family-favorite. Users, young and old, can schedule clean-ups from their smartphone. When it’s finished vacuuming, it’ll head back to its charging station. The only job for users is to empty the dustpan.
Robotic mops have a nearly identical mechanism – they can sweep and mop hardwood, tile and stone floors – and are operated via a smartphone app. They’re pretty impressive to observe: they automatically choose the cleaning setting based on the stain, dirt or debris. They even spray furniture and walls before cleaning! Furthermore, they clean those hard-to-reach spots like behind the toilet and below sinks and cabinets.
These days, these robotic cleaning devices sync up to smart speakers so you can instruct your Roomba via voice command.
For pet-owning seniors, self-cleaning litter boxes and dog potty pads make clean-up for Fido and Fluffy virtually hands-free. One luxury of living is this technological age is that modern kitchen appliances – microwaves, ovens and dishwashers – can self-clean. These conveniences give everyone more quality time to enjoy their new home and all who live there.
Carmen Chai is an award-winning Canadian journalist who has lived and reported from major cities such as Vancouver, Toronto, London and Paris. For NewHomeSource, Carmen covers a variety of topics, including insurance, mortgages, and more.