My fiercely independent grandparents have survived Minnesota winters, various strains on their health, and hundreds of miles between the rest of the family for many years. Yet, with the recent strokes my grandmother has weathered and the MS that my grandfather fights daily, their children are struggling with these obstacles and the worry that accompanies them.
Many in my family have suggested everything from moving in with one of our relatives to moving to an assisted living community. However, my grandparents are not likely to move and they are not keen on the idea of having an in-home caregiver, no matter how minimal the visits are. I can’t say I blame them.
Being independent and protecting their privacy is important them, as I’m sure it’s important to your loved ones as well.
95% of those older than 75 want to live in their own homes indefinitely. According to a recent study by the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University, the number of people aged 75 and older living alone will nearly double between 2015 and 2035.
However, it is tough for many families to agree to this wish. Many of those over 75 have trouble remembering meals, medication, and other daily tasks. They spend much of their time at home, yet are not always willing or able to adopt more modern and instantaneous forms of communication, such as Facetime, email, and texting. Combine this with the fact that most of the family has moved further away at this point, and it can be difficult to ensure that older loved ones are safe and healthy.
Fortunately, there is a smart home solution that can provide peace of mind for my family, while preserving my grandparents’ independence.
What is Smart Home Technology for the Elderly?
Smart home systems and devices are connected via Wi-Fi and associated apps so you can monitor your home from anywhere. Using this remote monitoring technology for the elderly gives loved ones and caretakers the ability to check-in without having to be intrusive. It also allows immediate communication for times of emergency.
Products designed for senior living have exploded in recent years and are now available to the general public for a fraction of the cost of managed senior care solutions. With smart home products, you can provide security, monitoring, and peace of mind associated with most assisted living communities, while remaining independent and affordable.
Many professionally installed and managed systems are expensive to purchase, require high monthly subscription costs, and need professional installation. While these systems sound great on paper, my grandparents already have a hard time accepting help… the last thing they would agree to is a complicated system that is hard to implement.
Instead, I focused on solutions that are easy to self-install and set up, reasonably priced, and easy to use. After weeks of research and comparing products, I finally had a list of devices that would help my family feel better about my grandparents’ security, health, home, and location, as well as make it easier to stay in touch.
Here are the top ways you can use smart home technology to allow aging parents to live independently for longer, while still allowing you to keep track of and take care of them from a distance.
Location Trackers + Medical Alert Devices Give Greater Freedom of Mobility Without Worry
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, anyone with memory problems who is able to walk is at risk of wandering. In addition, 6 out of 10 people with dementia will wander at some point in their life. Even when older parents don’t have dementia, children often worry about their parents getting hurt and being unable to call for help.
However, asking our parents to wear an obvious or bulky GPS and medical alert device can be difficult. I know I would be incredibly embarrassed to walk around wearing a large button that said “Push for LifeAlert”. Wouldn’t you?
Thankfully, the technology has gotten fairly small and companies are starting to produce fashionable or hidden devices.
Most of these trackers and emergency alert devices require a monthly subscription, starting as low as $5/ month and averaging around $30/ month.
Smart watches are fashionable and can alert emergency services and provide tracking location
While you could potentially purchase a fully functional smartwatch (such as an Apple or Pebble Watch) and set up GPS tracking, these often need to be paired with a smartphone to function and don’t provide the same functions that a specialized watch for seniors includes.
Don’t want to constantly check up on mom and dad’s location to make sure they haven’t wandered off? These watches will automatically send you a notification if your loved one is leaving a predetermined safe area such as home – a practice called geo-fencing.
The LOK8U Emergency Alert Watch (pictured above) provides an incredibly useful geo-fencing function, allowing you to designate safe zones or ranges and be notified when your loved one wanders off. The LOK8U also includes a panic button that sends their location to any contacts listed on the account. This watch has many other features, but does require a $50/ month subscription.
The TriLOC GPS Locater Watch is another option tailored towards seniors. It is not as beautiful as the LOK8U watch, but it also includes geo-fencing. The monthly subscription is much lower at $29.99, and it has the added bonus of functioning as a one button mobile phone. Instead of simply sending a notification, the SOS button allows the user to call their emergency contact through the watch.
Both watches offer tracking through iOS, Android, and web apps.
Wearables/ Pocket Trackers
Wearable medical alert devices can be a great asset if you can convince your loved one to wear them every day.
One button medical alert trackers may seem more noticeable, but can be placed on a belt clip, a lanyard, or even a wristband to make them easier to remember and look nicer to carry around.
GreatCall’s one touch medical alert devices come in multiple styles (one design pictured above), can provide fall detection, and allow family members to check on the status and location of their loved ones from a user-friendly app. Subscriptions start at $19.99/ month.
If geo-fencing is important to you, the Pocketfinder Senior GPS Tracker (subscriptions start at $12.95/ month) is one of the better options, however, it does not include a panic button or a one touch medical alert.
The Jitterbug by GreatCall offers features that help seniors live independently.
I want my grandparents to have a smartphone, but the incredible amount of apps, dense menus, and small buttons can make it hard for a generation that did not grow up with these devices. To get the most out of a smart product, your loved ones must be willing to use it.
GreatCall offers multiple touchscreen smartphones with a limited number of apps, large icons, and one touch medical alert. Many of their plans also include fall detection, GPS tracking, and free apps that offer medication and other health reminders.
Are your loved ones totally against the idea of a smartphone? Greatcall also has the Jitterbug Flip Phone (pictured above) that offers the same features (GPS tracking, fall detection, large keys), minus the smartphone apps.
These are the highest rated, most affordable, yet feature dense devices I found for emergency alerts and tracking. Keeping your family connected and secure is super important, and these phones offer just about everything you need.
Manage Your Loved Ones Health and Medications Remotely With These Apps + Devices
Automatic Medication Dispensers + Reminders
There are many devices that offer medication reminders, but only a few that will notify caregivers if pills are not taken.
Many people are taking multiple medications by the time they reach 70 years of age and up to 40 percent of nursing home admissions can be attributed to the inability to manage and take those medications unsupervised.
There are dozens of free apps that offer regular reminders and a few that are centered around medications. However, if you are concerned that older parents will miss a dose even with the reminder, or perhaps your parents are not as tech savvy, these won’t help.
The Vitality Glowcap Electronic Pillbox (pictured above), comes with an outlet light and provides both visual (a gentle, flashing glow from the light) and audible beep reminders whenever it is time to take their medication. If your family member does not take their medication, you will automatically be notified. Unfortunately, this will only work for one medication, and subscriptions start at $15/ month.
If you want more control over dosage and schedule, or have multiple medications, the MedReady Monitored Medication Dispenser is the most affordable option I could find. Holding up to 28 doses and able to provide reminders up to 4 times per day, this dispenser is much better suited for those managing multiple medications and doses per day. It will notify caregivers if a dose is missed and the no contract subscription is only $16/ month.
If you are a senior who simply wants more organized medication reminders, but do not need anyone notified if a dose is missed, the highest rated option is the LiveFine Automatic Pill Dispenser. This 28 day dispenser is nearly identical to the MedReady device, but without the monthly fees and caregiver notifications.
Remote Health Services
More and more physicians are adopting telehealth solutions and video appointments have become incredibly affordable and easy to setup.
Parents or grandparents with limited mobility can have a hard time making it out to a doctor’s office as often as they should, but until recently, even a mild health concern could require a trip.
Telehealth solutions have recently become a very affordable alternative and are sometimes even covered by insurance.
Let’s say your father has a few questions for his physician, whether about a small cut, rash, or other symptom. Instead of driving to urgent care, or scheduling an appointment with his doctor, he can simply open up a video call, discuss and show the physician the problem, and then can be told the appropriate action to take. I am immediately impressed with how much time and energy this could save.
Amwell is one of the most widely adopted solutions, offering urgent care video calls with a physician for $49 or less.
1DocWay is another easy to use service that focuses on providing tele-psychiatry services, allowing loved ones to receive therapy within the comfort of their own home.
FocusCura’s VideoCare service takes it a step further, allowing caregivers and family members to be invited to the video appointment with the physician and provides an app for the patient to easily manage and access all of their contacts through voice and video calls.
Cut Through Complicated Technology to Easily Communicate with Independent Living Seniors
According to a study by the University of California, social isolation and loneliness are associated with increased mortality.
It can be hard to stay in touch with parents and grandparents that live further away and they often become less active in community as they get older and less mobile. I remember thinking that Skype was the solution to this distance and feeling of isolation when it first came out. However, you have probably seen this humorous video of two grandparents attempting to use their webcam for the first time and we continue to hear stories of frustrating video calls gone awry with older family members.
If the family member you are trying to stay connected to is tech savvy, you could purchase a computer or tablet targeted towards seniors. The Telikin Elite is a touchscreen computer with a very simple interface, large icons, and a few very simple apps, including email, web browsing, photo viewer (can sync with family members’ Facebook photos), and Skype video chat. The AARP RealPad offers similar functionality in a tablet.
Smart TVs were a slightly easier, albeit expensive solution, until Skype stopped supporting their smart TV app.
If I could imagine a simpler solution, it would connect directly to an existing television, smart or not, be easy to navigate, and alert my grandparents of incoming calls even when the TV was off.
Apparently, someone read my mind.
The TelyHD Skype Web Cam is designed with seniors in mind and boasts a simple user interface and easy setup, yet is still flush with features. Television off? The remote will let you know when you have an incoming call. Missed a call? Your family members can leave video messages for you. Want to share photos? The USB slot on the back allows you to share photos from a memory card or USB flash drive, or to connect an additional microphone for longer range. It automatically uploads all of your Skype contacts for easy calling and can be set to auto answer calls from certain family members. You can even control the device from your smartphone!
Keep Your Family Members Safe With Smart Security and Home Monitoring Systems
According to a Bureau of Justice document, the elderly are often the target of robbery or home invasion because of their perceived vulnerability. This can cause great concern for family members, especially when elderly family members live further away, deal with memory problems, or are less mobile.
A smart security system not only makes the resident feel safer and more in control of their home, but it also can give family members updates, allowing them to sleep well at night knowing their older relatives are safe.
Instead of worrying whether or not the front door is locked, a bathtub is left on, or suspicious characters are lurking around the house, you can check and control those things from your smartphone… multiple states away!
These are the highest rated, most affordable, and easiest to use home security and monitoring devices for building a smart home perfect for independent seniors.
Hubs/ Security Systems
A Smarthome hub allows your to easily monitor, control, and schedule most of your smart home devices.
I mentioned earlier that there are multiple systems built specifically around monitoring aging parents and keeping them safe, such as MyLively (currently on backorder) or GrandCare. However, more flexible DIY smart home systems have begun equaling or surpassing these systems in features, affordability, and ease of use.
My favorite system that I’ve tried out so far?
The Samsung SmartThings system. Not only does it provide an easy to set up hub allowing all your smart devices to communicate with each other, but it also provides easy to use web, iOS, and Android apps that allow you to monitor, control, and set schedules for different devices.
When paired with the Amazon Echo or other smart digital assistants, your loved ones don’t even need to fiddle around with an app, but can speak custom voice commands to control the lights, appliances, and any other connected devices.
The scheduling and custom behaviors you can set for your devices are nearly endless, especially when you pair your SmartThings hub or Amazon Echo with IFTTT. This free service allows you to set “if this happens, then do that” rules for your devices.
On top of this, it isn’t restricted to Samsung devices only. The SmartThings hub uses both popular smart device communication standards (Z-Wave and Zigbee), allowing it to work with most connected smart devices, regardless of manufacturer.
The Samsung SmartThings Home Monitoring Starter pack comes with the hub, a motion sensor (can be used to control lights, notify loved ones of daily activity, or trigger alarms), two window/ door sensors, and a smart outlet.
You can add on additional door, window, and motion sensors with a Z-Wave GoControl Security Bundle, or purchase them individually from multiple vendors. Want additional visibility? Pick one of the best Wi-Fi security cameras and monitor it from your smartphone, computer, or tablet.
When paired with the Samsung Arrival Sensor, the system can trigger alerts when your loved one leaves or arrives at the house to automatically lock or unlock doors, turn on lights, adjust the thermostat, etc. based on their location.
Make sure the door gets locked every night… even if miles away.
With the many affordable smart locks on the market, it is no longer necessary to worry about unlocked doors at your loved ones’ home. When linked with a smart hub or online app, caregivers can set the locks on a schedule (lock every night after 9pm), check their status, or be notified when there is irregular access (someone unlocks the door between the hours of 9pm and 5am).
When paired with an arrival sensor, smartphone, or location tracker, smart locks can be programmed to allow keyless entry for those with arthritic hands.
Smart Doorbell Camera
The Ring smart doorbell is great for enhancing the safety of your loved ones’ home.
A smart lock is great for making sure the doors are locked at night, but by itself, your loved ones still have to get up and check the door to see who is there before they unlock it.
The combination of a smart lock and smart doorbell allows the user and/ or the caregiver to get a notification when the doorbell rings, check the camera, and then unlock the smart lock… without ever getting up or leaving whatever task they are in the middle of.
The Ring smart doorbell (pictured above) has an additional peace of mind bonus. It can send you a notification and allow you to check the camera whenever someone is detected outside, even if they don’t ring the doorbell. This feature allows you or your parents to see any would-be burglars before they even know you can see them.
Tech writer Jade Cutler has compiled a list of the best smart doorbell cameras.
Home Maintenance/ Monitoring
I already second-guess whether or not I turned appliances off in the house I live in… I can’t imagine how I’d feel if I was helping take care of my grandparents’ home, hours away. A leaky pipe or bathtub left on can be an easy fix if caught early, but could be catastrophic if not.
Incorporating smart devices that allow you to monitor and control the home aren’t simply useful for preventing maintenance problems. They can also save energy costs and make daily tasks easier for the seniors in your life.
This is the list my family came up with for the most affordable and practical gadgets for seniors who want to remain independent. Did we miss anything?
Flood Sensors – Useful for detecting a stopped up sink, an overflowing appliance, or a pipe leak. I am buying a water sensor for both my bathrooms and the laundry room.
Robotic Vacuums + Mops – Even though my grandmother is still mobile enough to keep the house clean, I love thinking about the energy that a robotic vacuum on a schedule could save her. Check out the reviews on this list of the best robotic vacuums to remove the stress of a dirty house from your loved ones’ life.
Smart Thermostat – Set the thermostat on a schedule, allow caretakers and seniors to control it from a smartphone, and set up IFTTT (“if this happens, then do that”) rules to automatically adjust temperature based on sunlight, time of day, or whether or not someone is home. Here is a comparison of the best smart thermostats on the market by Aiza Coronado.
Smart Lighting – Smart lights (or regular lights plugged into smart outlets) make it easy to turn all lights off at the end of the night, set the lights on a schedule, or even control them with voice commands if you have a digital assistant, such as the Amazon Echo, connected to your smart hub. You can automate lighting through smart light bulbs or with smart light switches.
We could cite the high cost of assisted living, or the comfort of staying in your own home as reasons why smart tech is a better solution for aging relatives. However, I think the real reason smart tech for seniors is seeing such high adoption is because of the determination and independence of the Baby Boomer generation.
Not that previous generations did not have this strong desire for independence! Now, however, technology has finally advanced to the point where we can provide the necessary assistance, comfort, and security for both seniors and their concerned families.
What features do your aging loved ones need the most to help them live independently? What features do you need to feel comfortable with them living independently? Let us know in the comments below.