Sensing a long life at home

In a world where technology is increasingly being integrated into our lives, it’s time to think about how it can be used to help those in need. Amy Wallington looks at how home automation can be incorporated into care and how integrators can configure systems to help.

The human race is living longer, and many residential care homes and hospitals are feeling the pressure to keep up with demand. With our longer lifespan, technology is continuing to integrate further and further into our everyday lives. Last year, 51 per cent of 55 to 64-year-olds and 18 per cent of over 65-year-olds owned a smartphone with this number increasing steadily every year. 

If the older generation are becoming more tech savvy, shouldn’t we be looking into how it can play a part in elderly and disabled care? Home automation could be the answer to keeping the elderly and disabled in their homes for longer while maintaining their comfort, safety and independence. 

The idea of a smart home might sound scary at first, especially to the older generation, but with the correct systems, it can be simple and easy to use and will allow the elderly to stay in their homes for longer. If you think about it, there are already many devices used by the elderly when it comes to their care, for example pull cords and lifelines.

The capabilities for home automation in the assisted living space are endless but, being such a niche market, a lot of integrators have not yet dabbled into this side of business. On the other hand, many potential customers are not aware of the benefits that could be gained from having a smart home. 

Andy Moss, managing director, Moss Technical thinks it requires time invested by the integrator to get to know the client’s needs. “With any type of installation that’s a little bit more in depth, like a smart home, then the integrator needs to take time for consultations to really understand the client’s needs. It’s not a quick job for quick money, you must invest time into an installation like this. It’s also important not only to look at current needs, but future needs too. Integrators also need to understand what the product can do. If someone was to have a sudden lifestyle change, they need to know that the system fitted into their home can be configured to suit their needs.”

Therefore, ensuring all automated homes are future-proofed is essential. Integrators need to make sure there is sufficient cabling to do this, as Tyron Cosway, the operations and marketing manager at Loxone, agrees. “When you’re planning a house, you must make sure you have plenty of cabling to future-proof the installation,” clarifies Cosway. “You don’t necessarily need to know what you are going to use it for, you just need to make sure that you’ve got cabling running to many different places in case of any future additions to the installation.”

"It’s a fantastic thing to know that I can incorporate this kind of technology into my mum’s house one day.” 

Installing a smart home for the assisted living doesn’t really differ to a traditional install. Cosway believes that the real difference is how you configure the system. He explains: “The difference between a conventional install and an assisted living install is how the technology is configured and adapted. When I talk about situations or configurations, it could be that notifications are set up in a different way. Many systems and products are very flexible in terms of how they are configured with the software.”

He continues: “Notifications can be set up to a specific need. It wouldn’t make sense to send a notification to the phone of a 95-year-old or someone who is deaf or hard of hearing when someone is at the front door. Instead, we can configure the system to make the lights flash inside the house to notify them. Additionally, family members can get notifications to say someone is at their parent’s door, which is very useful if the emergency services are called and they need to be let into the property.”

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Remote monitoring
Even before entering the home, it is clear that by simply having access control, home automation can make such a difference to those who want to keep their independence and live in their homes for longer. There are so many ways that a smart home can benefit the assisted living, and it can also take pressure off family members and carers too. Remote monitoring is a great way to keep an eye on the elderly in their home which can also lead to not needing as many carers visiting the house throughout the day.

Remote monitoring can sound like privacy is being compromised but this isn’t the case. Families can still keep an eye on their loved ones while making sure they still keep their privacy and independence. Cosway explains: “When I talk about assisted living using our technology, it’s unobtrusive monitoring. Elderly people don’t want their family members to ‘ship them off to a home’. They hate that because it can feel like they are losing their independence as well as the home they have perhaps lived in for 20 years or more. They don’t want to lose that, so unobtrusive monitoring allows people to stay in their homes for longer while offering the family some peace of mind that they are okay.”

Instead of using invasive cameras around the house, there are a number of different ways that families can monitor their loved ones in an unobtrusive way. When integrators are talking to clients about their needs, it’s crucial to hear about their daily routines to think about how unobtrusive monitoring can be incorporated into it.

An example of unobtrusive monitoring being incorporated into daily routines is demonstrated here by Cosway: “One of my favourite and easiest methods I like to use is through our Loxone wireless sockets. So without actually changing anything in the home, you can plug a kettle into the wireless socket, for example, that will send a notification to a family member every time it is used. If they know that the person boils the kettle every morning before half past nine without fail as part of their routine, we could set up a notification to alert the family member if the kettle hasn’t been boiled by quarter to 10, meaning something might be amiss. The family member can then try and contact that person or go to their house to check if everything is okay.”

Moss agrees that the programming of systems is key in this market. He states: “Whether I’m wiring this for a young family in their mid-20s or somebody in their 80s who wants some independent living at home, it’s exactly the same cabling infrastructure. The difference is the programming. We could reprogram light switches in each room that the person can press and hold for a certain number of seconds and it can cause the outside lights to start flashing to alert the neighbours that something is wrong. It can also trigger the gates to open or unlock the front door so that emergency services can gain access. It can also be programmed to send a notification to a next of kin to tell them that something is wrong.”

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Photo credit: Loxone

Voice and motion sensing
Another handy tool that most of us now have in our homes is voice controls through the likes of Alexa and Google Assistant, playing a vital role in this type of smart home application. If an elderly person has a fall at home and cannot reach anything to alert someone that they need help, by saying ‘Alexa help’, it could then send a notification to a family member. This is a feature we could see in this sector in the near future.

Something that will make a huge difference to wellbeing in the assisted living market is motion sensors. Cosway argues they are possibly the most important piece of technology you can have in an assisted living environment. It doesn’t matter how many carers you have going into the house throughout the day, motion sensors are active 24 hours a day, seven days a week and can be crucial in times when people are most vulnerable.

He explains: “Simple things like a motion sensor can give you the peace of mind that you can’t have without a full-time live-in carer. For example, if an elderly person gets up in the night to go to the toilet, a motion sensor in the hallway will detect that they have gone past. If the motion sensor hasn’t picked up the person coming back within 20 minutes, it could mean there’s a problem. In which case, it can send a notification to a family member so that they can check. If the person has had a fall in the bathroom, it means that they are not laying on the cold, hard floor all night before a carer of family member finds them.”

“If someone was to have a sudden lifestyle change, they need to know that the system fitted into their home can be configured to suit their needs.”

It’s not just wellbeing that motion sensors can help with. It’s important to remember that they work in the same way as they do in any ordinary smart home. Sensors provide the input, but the output is completely up to the client. It can do whatever it’s needed to do, whether that’s control the lighting or automatically close a window when it gets down to a certain temperature, all things that can be of help to a disabled or elderly person.

Moss adds: “Motion sensors are absolutely crucial because they can be used to control almost anything. We can program them for occupancy, so that in the event of non-movement for a particular period of time through the day, it can raise an alert. But they can also be used as security detectors. They can be paired up with a Niko System for example to ensure that their house isn’t burgled. Motion detectors are a great source of automation, it’s how you apply them to the actual solution that can make a difference.”

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Freedom through technology

And it’s not just inside the house that smart technology can be used to help the assisted living. Moss recalls an example of a particular client who has trouble leaving the house when it is icy or snowy. He says: “Through my advice, one of my clients who is in their 50s, has added some electric under path heating on the steps and path outside the front of their house so they don’t become stuck or risk a fall when it freezes over. The heating comes on automatically when the temperature drops below four degrees Celsius outside. It’s a simple add on that can make a huge difference.”

The great thing about home automation is that it can be configured to suit particular needs, so it should never go out of date. There are so many opportunities for this business sector to thrive in to help elderly and disabled people. Cosway thinks it’s important to recognise that smart homes for assisted living is a very niche sector and it takes patience to get into. 

He claims: “I think the B2B environment is where a lot of the networking connections are made because it’s an exceptionally niche thing to go into. Installers need to recognise this and know that they aren’t just going to get into it and immediately get business because it’s an industry that probably requires a bit more of a stringent tender process.”

Home automation could be one of the answers to the current crisis that some countries are experiencing where hospitals and care homes are overrun with patients. It also means pressure could also be relieved slightly from carers. 

“I think home automation definitely adds peace of mind and relieves a lot of stress for families,” states Cosway. “It plays on my mind wondering what to do for my mum. Do I put her on a waiting list five or ten years before I think she might need it because trying to secure a place in a care home takes a long time? Or would it be great to know that I wouldn’t need to move her and that she could be very comfortable in the space that she’s in. It’s a fantastic thing to know that I can incorporate this kind of technology into my mum’s house one day.”

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Motion detectors provide unobtrusive monitoring in assisted living situations. Credit: Anucha Cheechang / Shutterstock

Anticipating demand
Moss concludes: “I think the market is definitely going to grow and there’s going to be a lot more products coming onto the market. But it’s important that in the assisted living market, integrators should try to avoid products that are more of a retrofit, plug-and-play, add-on device. The technology needs to be properly integrated into a system that will fully control what it needs to.

“I would also like to think that there would be some funding from the government in the future to allow people to integrate smart homes for this market. However, the fact of the matter is, home automation needs to be thought about early on while you’re able bodied. It’s early days now because people aren’t really thinking about it but if this is going to be the future, people need to think about a system that will see them throughout their lives and incorporate it into builds. 

“The bottom line is, regardless of whether it’s for assisted living, everybody should be thinking about having a smart home now.”