Energy adviser: Automation can help seniors remain in home

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Remember when only two wires came into your home carrying electricity and the telephone? If you do, you’re at the age when you are probably preparing for retirement or considering aging in place.

Most of us already have Internet providers, security companies or cable suppliers wired into our homes. These services are all expanding into home automation. So now might be the time to put one of those extra wires to good use by automating your home and laying the groundwork to maintain your future independence and comfort.

The aging-in-place movement helps seniors preserve quality of life while remaining in their own homes. Because we are all more comfortable and feel more independent at home, it focuses on keeping folks at home longer.

Everyone’s heard horror stories about seniors injured by falls, not turning off appliances and causing fires, or taking medications improperly. By merging home automation with aging in place, seniors can enjoy a more comfortable experience in their home, increase safety through monitoring and reminder services — and reduce family members’ worries.

Today, a swipe of a finger across a smartphone seems to make anything simpler, even home automation. Technology can help reduce the likelihood of unfortunate incidents while supporting aging in place. Automation not only grants seniors control over their living space, it provides the ability to quickly and easily call for help when there’s a medical or safety emergency.

“Using home automation, you can set appliances to shut off automatically after a certain amount of time and monitor the home environment with cameras,” said DuWayne Dunham, energy services supervisor for the Clark Public Utilities. “These technologies even allow multiple family members to share access so that several people know about a senior’s welfare and can help with care.”

Not long ago, an alert necklace worn by seniors seemed an easy way to know if they were safe or not. Now automation extends to video monitoring inside and outside the home using inexpensive webcams that let family members check periodically and view both the inside and outside of the home.

If appliances are hooked into the home automation system, anyone with a smartphone could check on an aging parent. Family members can even check faucets, curling irons, toasters, stoves and other every day appliances. Home automation can also include thermostats that can be programmed and adjusted remotely to keep homes at a safe, comfortable temperature and make sure heating and cooling systems are operating properly.

Everyone forgets things from time to time, and this can worsen with aging. While automating a senior’s home can help ensure comfort and safety, it doesn’t account for medication schedules or monitor correct dosages. Often, seniors have no one to remind them to take their medication and to double check that the correct amount was taken. Automated medication dispensers can not only dole out pills at the appropriate time, but also help ensure the dosage is correct.

Some companies are also coming out with reminder systems, not just for medicine, but also to prompt elders about other things, everything from doctors’ visits to lunch with a friend. These systems give people the independence and freedom to remain in the home while also providing family members, whether living close by or far away, the confidence that their loved one is safe, active and healthy.

“Home automation cannot replace care that may be needed by a senior,” Dunham said. “Instead, it’s just another layer of care and an additional resource. For family members, this automated layer can provide them greater peace of mind and increases the protection for aging loved ones.”


Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.