While America may be graying, our society is changing by the minute.
Technological advancements have impacted almost every aspect of our lives, and it’s safe to say this trend will continue. Smart technology has been a huge asset for aging-in-place design. Today, a wide range of assistive devices are available to help retirement-age adults stay at home longer and give family members and caregivers the peace of mind of knowing the safety and security of their loved ones is watched more closely than ever before.
I incorporate smart technology into just about all of my aging-in-place home renovation projects, all with the goal of adding more safety and comfort to the home. Smart, assistive technology can improve the quality of life for your loved one. The good news is that this technology is no longer cost prohibitive or difficult to use. And, for DIYers, most smart tech upgrades are easy to install.
Let’s take a look at six simple changes that you can make right now to incorporate smart technology into your aging-in-place home.
1. Smart Thermostats
Smart thermostats have been around for over a decade and are already a cornerstone of many AIP renovations. These devices have a major effect on the efficiency of household heating and cooling systems. However, did you know that adding a few extra temperature sensors throughout the residence will not only help you save on energy costs but also help your aging loved one comfortably navigate daily activities? These temperature gauges can be connected with your smart thermostat, creating a simple and stress-free way to easily regulate the temperature in each room of the home.
Many smart thermostats utilize the same technology as Siri, Alexa, or other voice-activated digital assistants, making it possible for people to control temperature and humidity in any room by simply speaking.
Why are smart thermostats and temperature sensors so important for older adults aging in place? As we age, we become more susceptible to dehydration. Rooms or households with low humidity can lead to mild dehydration–which can cause dizziness, confusion, fatigue and other conditions that make injuries from falls a much bigger threat.
Recommended Smart Thermostats for Aging in Place
The Google Nest thermostat lets you adjust your home’s temperature from your smart phone or through your Alexa smart speaker. And, once you set it up manually, the Nest thermostat will adjust the temperature based on your habits. This smart thermostat makes it easy for your parent to control their home’s temperature how they prefer and always feel comfortable.
Honeywell has a long line of excellent smart thermostats. This one makes my list of suggested models because it’s incredibly easy to read, even for tired eyes and from across the room. With just a few numbers on its display at any time, it’s not overly complicated – a big plus when designing for aging in place. The T9 is compatible with both Alexa and Google Assist, so your parent can control the temperature of their home with just their voice. It also lets you control temperature of multiple rooms at once, has a strong sensor range and learns your heating and cooling patterns for added efficiency.
Read my article, “Different Types of Easy-to-Read Thermostats and How to Install Them,” for more product recommendations and a DIY installation guide.
2. Smart Lighting
Good quality lighting is a staple of smart aging-in-place design. As we age, our eyes take in less light and we become sensitive to glare. Brightening up rooms to make objects easier to detect without creating areas of harsh, uncomfortable light, can be achieved with recessed lights, dimmable switches and well-positioned task lights.
The beauty of connecting your home’s lighting to your smart speaker or phone is the ease at which your parent can now control light easily and painlessly. Smart technology allows them to dim the light in one room while raising the brightness of recessed lights over top of the kitchen island as they prep dinner.
Here are a few smart technology-enabled lights and lighting accessories that will improve the quality of life for your aging parent.
One of the best smart dimmer switches on the market right now is this one by Lutron. It connects your home’s lights to smart phone so you can control each room’s light remotely. The switch also connects to your Google Assistant or Alexa smart speaker for voice-command control of your home’s light. This switch is easy to use and easy to install.
Quality light also needs to be a consideration on the exterior of the home. Smart lighting options are growing in popularity, allowing your parent to turn on and off their front porch lights as they come and go. This outdoor smart light from Philips is a high output fixture that will give your entryway a significant amount of extra light making entering your home at night safer for your parent. They can control the light from their phone or smart speaker, and set it to an automatic timer.
3. Smart Detection
Smart sensors can also monitor safety issues within the home such as broken glass, smoke, carbon monoxide, or flooding. Smart detectors can send alerts to your phone and will also signal you when the battery is running low. If there are conventional smoke and CO detectors in the home, you can achieve smart detection by simply installing a smoke alarm listening device. This device can be placed inside any unit that is powered by a 9-volt battery–as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection. The listening device will send alerts to your cell phone when it is activated or when it hears a detector chirp out a low battery warning.
These are two smart detection devices worth looking into as you plan your aging-in-place renovation.
If you have a manual smoke detector and carbon monoxide detector that you plan on keeping after your renovation, you can add this Smart Alarm Smoke and CO Listener by Ring. The alarm will alert you on your smart phone when your existing smoke or carbon monoxide detectors sound the alarms. This added alarm is easy to install and connect to your parent’s smart phone, and will give them one more layer of protection as they age in place.
If you’re ditching your old alarms post-renovation, take a look at this 3-in-1 smart detector from First Alert. First Alert has always been synonymous with high-quality smoke alarms. They now offer an Alexa-enabled smart alarm that alerts you in an emergency, tracks carbon monoxide levels, includes customized nightlights (a great aging-in-place feature!) and lets you know as soon as the batteries are starting to get low.
4. Smart Security
There are numerous smart security options on the market today. Cameras may be discretely positioned anywhere on the inside or outside of the residence and can be accessed and monitored by a cell phone. Most smart security equipment is easily installed, minimally invasive, and can be hardwired so batteries never run out.
If a property already has a home security system, modifications and enhancements are generally not an issue. One helpful smart security feature for older people is a video doorbell which allows them to see who is knocking before opening the door. If needed, emergency services can be summoned to a precise GPS-based location with the push of a button.
Another way to add smart security is to connect a smart lock. For a quick reference on how these work, think about hotel or ID badge keycards. Smart locks open when given an authorized signal. This could mean entering a code into your cell phone, placing a thumb on the device, or simply speaking to it.
Here are a few of my favorite smart security products that you can easily install in your aging-in-place home in just a weekend.
Your parent can use the August Smart Lock to lock and unlock their door with keyless access and keep track of who comes and goes from anywhere. It connects to Alexa as well so your parent can also control the lock with their voice making life even easier. I like this model in particular because it attaches to your existing deadbolt on the inside of the door and you can install it in just 10-minutes. It couldn’t be easier or safer.
If you’re interested in a full smart security system for your parent, SimpliSafe makes a great wireless home security system that pairs with Alexa and Google Assistant. Their 8-piece system includes a base station, keypad, motion sensors, entry sensors, and everything you need to fully control your home’s security and instantly trigger an alarm to police dispatch.
5. Smart Assistance
Smart technology is revolutionizing assistive technology (AT) options. AT is designed to work with a person’s most consistent and reliable physical motion to counter any other physical limitations. For people who may have trouble seeing small objects, there are large, high-visibility displays for cell phones and landlines. For people who have limited fine motor skills, smart locks and other household AT devices can enhance dexterity. Just a few years ago, the range and functionality of AT was limited–and it was very costly. Now, with smaller, smarter, and less expensive devices being sold online and in stores, AT is available for almost everyone and every need.
One smart AT fixture that we haven’t seen yet – until now – is the smart kitchen faucet. Not only can your parent have a handsfree option so sore hands aren’t turning levers or faucet knobs, now your faucet can turn on and off with just the sound of your voice.
Think about how many times a day you turn your kitchen faucet on and off. If your parent has sore, arthritic hands, every time they manually turn the faucet, they’re likely experiencing some amount of pain. Delta has incorporated its VoiceIQ smart technology into its popular pull down sprayer faucet so all you need now to control your faucet is your voice. You can even command the faucet to pour pre-set amounts of water, like 1-cup, or even a customized amount to fill your coffee pot on demand.
6. Smart Central Control
The prospect of operating smart technology may be intimidating—especially for people who never worked with these devices when they were younger. Even for the most technologically savvy people among us, operating a myriad of autonomous equipment and remembering a bunch of new passwords can be daunting.
After discussing all of your smart tech options with your aging in place contractor, and selecting the applications that can foster a higher quality of life, you can connect all (or most) of your new intelligent equipment—and create a virtual command center—by using only one smart speaker and voice activation system. Now turning up the heat a couple degrees, making sure the doors are locked, and confirming that motion sensors are a go can be just a few vocal commands away.
There are several smart speaker and voice activation systems out there. When I’m working with my clients, I typically steer them towards the Alexa Eco. From what I’ve found, most smart home devices pair with Alexa, giving you a wide variety of options.
These changes will not only enhance your aging in place renovations, but will very likely increase the home’s value and make it more appealing to potential buyers if you should decide to sell the property in the future.
Smart technology can be a huge asset in your goal to create a safer and more comfortable home for your parent as they age. Voice-activated and hands-free tech devices can help aging adults live independently with greater security and safety. These connected devices can also be intimidating, however, for old adults so work with your parent to find the right devices for their home that’ll provide the biggest benefit to their day-to-day wellbeing.
As you plan your aging-in-place remodel and continue to research the best smart technology devices to incorporate, send me any questions you have by using the comments section below. I’m here to help!
Good luck with your next aging-in-place home project.