10 smart tech devices to help ageing parents stay independent

New technology like sensors, connected appliances and even smart watches can help people overcome mobility and health issues to stay at home and live independently for longer.

By Rosalyn Page

Anyone caring for ageing parents knows they want to stay in their homes as long as possible. Health issues, mobility problems, social isolation and loneliness are common challenges making independent living more difficult.

But what if technology, robotics and Artificial Intelligence can solve some of these problems?

It already is. Australian research from the CSIRO found older people living in their own ‘smart homes’ fitted with new technologies like sensors have ten times greater quality of life scores than those who didn’t.

Sensors, beacons, robots and internet-enabled appliances are empowering people to live in their homes for longer with higher quality of life scores.

Personal monitoring devices keep loved ones are safe and well

Wearable fitness devices like smart watches, such as the Apple Watch and Solo Connect, a version of a Samsung Galaxy Watch 6, are easily adapted to enable fall detection, monitor the heart rate, set medication alerts, enable emergency contacts and even emergency situation calls.

Personal alarm systems such as MePacs are linked to a 24/7 emergency response service. The MedAlert watch provides fall detection, two-way calls and GPS tracking.

Mepacs, pictured above, is a smart watch and alarm system. New devices, including the Apple and Samsung Galaxy top-of-the-line watches, can also be used as alarms and emergency call devices.

Still in the home, connected devices can monitor vital signs, track activity levels and even detect falls, sending alerts to family members or caregivers in case of an emergency. 

For example, internet-connected blood pressure monitors such as Omron, Withings or the iHealth wrist monitor track blood pressure and pulse and send data to the connected app that can be shared with family members. 

There are also movement detection devices that can be fitted near beds to detect movement, on windows and doors that detect when they’re open, or in rooms or on chairs to detect movement and provide alerts. All helpful if you’re trying to help a loved one in the early stages of dementia stay safe in their own home.

As more of home technology and appliances connect to the internet, a range of capabilities to enable older people to live at home for longer are unleashed.

Smart home devices ease everyday tasks and provide added security

Voice-activated assistants like the Google Home or Amazon Alexa can help people with arthritis or mobility problems get reminders, make phone calls, play music or even answer questions, helping to reduce feelings of isolation and to remain connected. 

Someone may need to spend a little time setting up the voice-activated assistant, but once done it can change the way people with vision or mobility impairment complete tasks around the house. You can use online services like Airtasker or tech-support providers like Geeks2U to help with programming a voice assistant.

Voice assistants and voice-enabled search will allow people with mobility difficulties more opportunities to easily make calls to reassure loved ones they are safe and well.

Google Home, Apple HomePod and Amazon Echo are examples of voice-activated internet-connected smart speakers that can act as assistants by responding to voice commands and automating connected technology like the television or even a smart refrigerator. 

They can also keep people up to date with the news and weather, play audiobooks, set timers and reminders and even help find the phone to call a loved one or carer at a certain time each day.  

It’s possible to upgrade things like lights, fans, doorbells and plugs to ‘smart’ internet-connected versions that can be controlled remotely via the smart speaker. 

If there are dexterity issues with small knobs or mobility issues getting to the door, it can be particularly helpful to enable people to use voice commands to stay independent in their own home.

Cheaper alternatives to smart technology now exist with plug in tools starting at $20-$40.

An alternative to expensive smart technology can be plugging devices into smart electricity plugs to be controlled with voice commands.

For added security and peace of mind, smart doorbells have video cameras that enable loved ones and caregivers to keep an eye on who’s at the door. They help monitor the comings and goings from the dwelling remotely through an associated app. 

Major retailers such as JB Hi-Fi, The Good Guys, Bunnings and Officeworks, K-Mart and Ikea all sell smart lighting, electricity plugs, doorbells and sensors. 

More appliances including fridges, microwaves and even washing machines are coming onto the market with smart features. You can find guides from CHOICE that will step you through the process of setting up smart devices.

And what’s not to love about having a helping hand with the house cleaning? Enter the robotic vacuum cleaner that can take over the tedious task of keeping floors clean. 

These can be controlled and scheduled through an app to avoid getting underfoot and some will even mop floors too. Again, major retailers sell robot vacuums but do your research and read reviews as the prices and quality varies between different brands.

Use digital tools to stay active and in the loop

Video calls offer a way to allow virtual face-to-face contact with family and friends, helping to bridge the gap caused by physical distance. Read more on how to stay digitally connected with grandchildren.

With a smartphone, laptop or tablet, it’s possible to use Skype, Facebook Messenger or What’sApp that puts loved ones in reach with a few clicks. There is also a helpful online guide from BeConnected, a government service to help people securely connect and use technology.

There are also dedicated devices with monitoring such as the Genus, an internet-connected photo frame device that comes with a monitoring subscription to allows video calls, photo sharing and sensors to monitor for changes in light, sound and movement. The device offers alerts if typical patterns change. It costs around $1000 to buy the frame and a 12-month subscription to the app.

Virtual home exercise programs

Staying physically active is crucial for everyone, and home exercise programs are a convenient way to help maintain fitness. Read more about the power of exercise to keep us healthy in Citro’s longevity guide and strength training articles.

YouTube channels like Senior Fitness with Meredith or Active Seniors Health Centre are good to deliver virtual fitness routines that can be done at home. 

Online exercise programs are also available through websites such as Safe Exercises at Home, Active & Healthy, Integrated Living and Active Ageing Australia.  

For brain exercises to prevent cognitive decline, devices like tablets and laptops can be used with programs to help with memory, cognition and entertainment. 

There’s an online gym for your brain, BrainGymmer, and apps such as CogniFit, Peak and Elevate for help with cognitive skills. Braingle has puzzles, trivia and games. Even Citro has free online Sudoku, word search and code cracker.

Other tech-enabled help services

Getting around can be a challenge for people with mobility issues. Rideshare service Uber Assist offers help with certified drivers. 

A new American service called GoGoGrandparent has launched in Australia to help screen and improve the reliability of partners like Uber and DoorDash to deliver meals and medication for people who want to live independently in their home for as long as possible.

The Australian Government has a dedicated site called BeConnected that has a wide range of informative guides and articles to help all Australians with digital skills and online safety. National Seniors also offer a tech hub with informative guides.

There are many ways technology can help keep people living in their own home for longer, especially if you select the right solutions for a person’s specific needs.

Read more easy-to-understand tech guides on Citro:

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