Smart home technology makes our spaces safer, more comfortable, and more entertaining. This technology can also add value for us as we get older. If you're an older person ready to add convenience to your home, or an adult child looking for smart technology to make your parent more comfortable, here are some things to consider before making a purchase.
Evaluate What’s Important to You
Unless money is no object, the cost of any of these devices is probably at the top of your list. Smart technology varies widely in price depending on what you’re installing, and if you’re opting for something in the more expensive range, it should be a device that will be useful for your lifestyle rather than something only showcased at parties.
Keep It Simple
If you're helping an aging parent with shopping and installation, think about how they'll be accessing and using the device. Pay particular attention to ease of use. A smart TV with loads of apps and accessories might make sense for younger folks, but might not be a wise decision for your mom who only wants to watch the news, and gets confused with all the windows and remotes.
With smart devices that require accounts and downloaded apps, there's always a risk that personal information can become vulnerable to scammers. Keep your privacy protected by never giving out personal information without a thorough check to make sure you are providing it to a legitimate agency. Make sure the older folks in your life know about phishing attacks. Real organizations will never ask for sensitive information like bank accounts or social security numbers via email.
Smart Security Systems
Smart security can come in the form of modular systems that feature simple DIY installation for self-monitoring, or it can be professionally installed by a company that might offer 24-hour surveillance service. The DIY route is less expensive and generally easy to install, offering simple observation online or through the app.
Most such systems can be customized to your needs, but because they're self-monitored, they rely on the owner to notify authorities when an event is triggered, unlike a professionally monitored service that will contact fire or police services automatically.
Some of the options for those who don’t want to commit to a dedicated monitoring service that comes with a subscription fee include:
Smart Door Locks - Make locking yourself out of the house a thing of the past with a system that can unlock the home remotely via smartphone app. Some even have Bluetooth, but these have to be in range to connect. Some models let you keep a log of entries into the house, and add schedules to unlock the door at certain times. Newer features include voice capability that can integrate with smart home hubs, but those that allow remote monitoring and voice capabilities can come with a higher price.
Video Doorbells - These allow homeowners to see who is at the door from a remote monitor either in the house or on an app. No more peeking through a peephole. An aging senior who has trouble getting up from a sitting position would appreciate knowing whether or not it is necessary to go to the door, as would a mom busy bathing her child.
Smart Medical Care Devices
As we age, it’s almost inevitable that we’ll need assistance to help us stay in good health. Technology is making this easier than ever.
Smart Pill Dispensers - These are a great tool to ensure pills are taken on schedule and as advised. There are a variety on the market, but some of the features to look for are ones with a programmable calendar, a locking feature to prevent taking a dose or med when not prescribed, an alarm that alerts you when a dose is missed, and remote monitoring for caregivers.
Smart Glucose Monitoring - This is a necessity for many people, and it just got a little easier using a device that connects to your smart phone. Apps for these devices can keep a log of test readings that a family member, doctor, or caregiver can access from the internet. Some have Bluetooth capability, some are portable, and some help you recognize trends in glucose readings.
Smart Blood Pressure Monitoring - Blood pressure can be an important health indicator, and these devices allow the user to share information remotely with others via the app or through email. Portability, preference for an upper arm or wrist cuff, and data sharing capability are factors to consider in your decision.
Streaming Video - It's getting hard to remember a lifetime ago when we had to wait to watch the next episode of our favorite show. With services like Netflix, Sling, HBO Go, and Disney+, and devices like Roku, Amazon Fire, and Google Chromecast, we can now watch borderline infinite content on demand. With so much to choose from, there's something for everyone, and nary an ad in sight.
Voice Assistants - Amazon's Alexa, Google's Assistant, and Apple's Siri are all great home companions. They can take the mystery out of questions that come up at the dinner table, and provide a funny outlet when asking for responses to silly questions. They can also offer more serious help—enabling a call for help in the case of a bad fall, for example—and as time goes on, they will continue to add more services relating to home healthcare, like checking on medication orders, or even monitoring breathing patterns.
Video Chat Devices - For adult children whose parents haven't quite gotten the hang of Skype or Facetime, there are now some dedicated video chat devices that are easy to install, making that Sunday evening call home to mom a little more personal. Facebook's Portal is an easy-to-use option. Amazon's Echo Spot and the Android friendly GrandPad are also popular.
Smart Lights - This energy saving upgrade can be as easy as changing a light bulb. Lights can be automated to turn on or off on a schedule, dimmed without a dimmer switch, and controlled using your smart home hub.
Leak Detection - Smart water leak detection can help homeowners prevent costly damage, and save money through monitoring usage.
Smart Ovens - Some smart ovens advertise the ability to recognize when a food is fully cooked, turning the appliance off once a meal is ready. This can be a great safety feature for a user who might forget the oven has been turned on.
Technology Can't Replace Love
All this tech is fantastic for making older folks more comfortable and helping keep them healthy. Just remember, this should never be a substitute for taking time to check in with your loved ones, or for scheduling regular medical visits for them.
Health tools are available for monitoring and information, but they need support from professional supervision. And all the convenience and entertainment in the world can't replace the value of a helping hand or supportive conversation.