Smart technology has become a staple in most homes. Thanks to its ability to automate a variety of everyday household tasks. However its use extends far beyond turning your lights off at night — they can be invaluable if you care for an elderly loved one.
Smart home systems integrate with CCTV systems, motion sensors and alarms, alerting you of emergency situations. Also when people come onto or enter premises. It’s become easier than ever to take care of your loved ones, but how do you choose the right system?
We look at the benefits of installing a smart home system, along with what’s available on the market.
Why Choose a Smart Home System?
Smart home systems have come a long way in recent years. They are now easy to install and even easier to use. Smart home systems allow you to control your lighting, heating and locks, regardless of where you are. Aside from providing convenience, they also offer safety, with measures in place to alert you of changes in or suspicious activity.
This becomes even more important if you care for an elderly friend or relative. It’s unrealistic to think you will be able to be at the home all the time. Likewise your loved one will want their own independence too. But should the worst happen, such as a trip or fall, a smart home system could allow the individual to alert a carer or family member. To get the help they need.
Smart home systems are exactly that — smart!
After installation, they intelligently learn routines and can adapt accordingly. For example supporting the user by turning off lights when they go to sleep or adjusting the heating on cooler nights. Sensors can also be set to trigger a warning to a trusted neighbour, friend or family member should the system detect unusual behaviour, such as inactivity.
Using a Smart Home System with a Personal Assistant
Many smart home systems can now integrate with thousands of appliances and devices, from thermostats to blinds and sound systems. They can also connect to the personal assistants found on many smartphones, for example; Google Assistant and Siri.
Supporting an elderly relative isn’t just about ensuring their safety; it’s also about enabling them to live as easily and with as much independence as possible. Using a personal assistant device allows users to order products and find information using only their voice. In addition to assisting them to make life easier, such as by automatically pouring a cup of coffee when they rise out of bed.
There are a number of personal assistant devices available, but the most popular are:
- Apple HomeKit
- Google Home
- Amazon Alexa
- Apple HomeKit
Apple Homekit allows you to customise the environment for the elderly, without them needing to travel from room to room. With the touch of a button, users can control lights, temperature and windows. This makes it particularly suited to users with mobility-limiting conditions.
HomeKit comes with the added comfort blanket of home CCTV, allowing you to monitor your loved one’s movements in real time. It also connects seamlessly to Apple’s wide range of products. This allows you to use your iPhone or iPad to change the environment and monitor settings, without having to physically be there. Apple’s HomeKit also comes with Siri, its voice-activated assistant, however it does take some time to get used too working with Siri.
Google Home is Google’s entry in the smart home market. Again featuring voice-activated technology, Google also draws on its huge store of data to make personalised recommendations. If you shop for your loved one online, you can create a shopping list, which can be ordered with a simple voice command. This allows your elderly relative to exercise their own independence in a way that’s easy and convenient.
Alexa is the third big name in virtual assistants. As you’d expect, Alexa makes ordering items from Amazon a breeze, but it’s not the only thing it can do. With a simple voice command, Alexa can make voice and video calls, which can benefit elderly users with limited mobility or who simply get tired easily.
Safety doesn’t just mean protecting a home from unexpected guests or looking out for suspicious activity — our home appliances can also pose a significant risk. With the right technology set up, personal assistants can interact with ovens and other kitchen appliances. If you’re ever concerned a loved one might have forgotten to turn off the cooker, you can do it for them. Likewise, if you’re worried a loved one might need to venture outside at night to turn off an outdoor light or sprinkler, you, or they, can do so quickly, easily and without any risk.
Smart Home Systems Designed Specifically for the Elderly
Smart home technology has grown massively in recent years. As systems become more sophisticated, system designers and engineers are finding new and innovative ways to provide a tailored service to customers. Based on this idea, more and more smart home system providers are offering installation of systems designed specifically for elderly residents. Wireless sensors can be placed around the home, which then learn a user’s behaviour by analysing patterns and speed of movement. They can also monitor pauses in activity.
After monitoring the user for two weeks and collecting data, it can then identify unusual behaviour, such as not getting out of bed, skipping meals or prolonged periods of inactivity. Some systems also have an awareness of time and can detect deterioration in how long an activity takes. If the system detects something unusual, it will send an alert to an elected caretaker or family member.
CCTV and Sensors
Smart home systems don’t always come with home CCTV as standard, meaning, while you can control the environment and be alerted to any danger, you won’t be able to physically see what’s happening. If this is a concern, you have two options: install a separate CCTV system or find a provider who can design and install a smart home system to suit your loved one’s needs.
Most CCTV systems can be fully controlled from a smartphone or tablet using a downloadable app. These smart systems go beyond simply monitoring the home, like traditional, poor-quality CCTV systems. The latest cameras deliver high-definition video and work with window and door sensors, which can be set up to send alerts, trigger alarms or turn on lights. These devices can also pick up changes in motion and temperature and may feature a built-in speaker, allowing your elderly relative to communicate with you easily. Like any traditional alarm, sensors can also be configured to ignore certain areas of the home, for example, if there are any pets.
Respecting the Elderly’s Right to and Desire of Privacy
There’s no doubt that smart home systems are capable of saving lives, especially when used to safeguard the elderly. However, there’s a delicate balance that needs to be achieved between safely monitoring the person you care about and invading their privacy. With CCTV on 24/7 and sensors monitoring an individual’s every move, it can be easy for them to gradually feel like a prisoner in their own home. So as a person with a loved one’s wellbeing in mind, how can you ensure you don’t throw that balance?
Limit the extent of surveillance
You don’t need a camera in every room to safely monitor someone at risk of a trip, fall or other accident. Instead, consider a camera in the front hallway or outside the front door to protect vulnerable individuals from potential issues such as theft and burglary and to safeguard against unauthorised access.
Provide opportunities for independence
As we get older, we all understand that we won’t be able to move as well as we used to and that certain tasks will become more difficult. This is especially true if we develop a mobility condition that affects freedom of movement. Understandably, it can be disheartening. A smart home system can be a huge assist, but it’s important that an elderly individual doesn’t feel that smart technology is hindering them by taking away the opportunity to do certain things themselves. Of course, just because technology exists and is installed, doesn’t mean that a person needs to use it. However, if lights are going off automatically or heating is being adjusted based on a routine that the hardware has learned, it could make individuals feel that they’ve lost the option of doing it themselves. Support your loved one to work with the technology, not against it. Adjust the settings where possible — or have a bespoke home system designed based on certain needs and requirements — to provide the maximum amount of independence.
Communicate the benefits of smart home systems
Ultimately, smart home systems are here to help us. They’ve already transformed many lives, but that doesn’t stop people from being uncertain about the technology. If smart technology is installed in a home to give you peace of mind and keep another person safe while you’re not there, you should communicate this for a variety of reasons.
If there’s a chance your loved one might feel like you’re keeping them under constant surveillance, they may start to resent the technology. It’s important that you carefully explain why this technology exists and, more specifically, why it exists in their home. It’s for their safety and benefit.
You should also show your loved one how to interact and use this technology. Allowing them to get answers to queries, turn off lights and order shopping all with the press of a button. The use of their voice can be empowering for elderly individuals.