Aging in Place Innovations

How a smarter home can deliver peace of mind

Can you remotely open a can of beans with your smart phone? Cool, but no big deal really. Can you remotely check on the contents of your aging mother’s refrigerator to see if she’s eating right or be alerted if her daily activities suddenly change? Now that's really cool and a big deal!

We’re all impressed by the recent advancements in smart home technology and in some cases, see our last blog on the topic, a little unsettled by the privacy implications. Be that as it may, most of these advancements have to do with efficiency, comfort and convenience. All well and good.

However, only recently have smart home developments traveled towards our most vulnerable and worrisome homeowners—our aging parents.

“It’s about peace of mind,” says Jonah Smith Murphy Bros. design/build experts and Universal Design Certified Professional. “Most of us don’t live near our aging parents or in-laws. Mine parents live in a different state, so it’s really tough to know how things are actually going when you’re not there. And the occasional phone call doesn't tell you everything either,” adds Smith.

Basic universal design applications.

“I recommend looking at just about any remodel with an eye towards universal design. It only makes sense in a population that is living longer and expecting to remain active in their homes well into retirement,” says Smith, now in his 12th year at Murphy Bros.

Smith continues, “While universal design has been around for quite a while, what’s coming now in the technological sense is way beyond grab bars and zero barrier showers.”

Samsung Family Hub™ Refrigerator

For instance, consider Samsung’s smart refrigerator with an internal camera that via an Internet connection, allows you to check on contents and usage.

“I don’t think you’re getting enough dairy Mom, I see mold on that cheese!”

The door of the Samsung Family Hub™ Refrigerator also has a PC tablet that integrates into their SmartThings home-automation system and talks to Billy. Who’s Billy?

Billy is an Australia-based company, named after the owner’s dog, that uses sensors and proprietary software to create a home-monitoring system that learns a person’s habits and sends a smartphone alert when those habits change.

The sensors can track room temperature, movement, motion and opening and closing doors.

Billy sensor package

Imagine the peace of mind in knowing if Mom or Dad didn’t get out of bed this morning, or went outside to get the mail and didn’t come back inside after the normal 10 minutes?

The company portrays this service as ideal for caregivers who need to monitor older adults without spying on them. Billy is expected to hit the commercial market in the U.S. later this year.

Not so technical, this actually works for kids too. And, well, probably some clumsy young adults as well.

Sometimes applying existing technology to a new situation can have a significant effect.This comes under the heading of “Captain Obvious” but using induction cooktops in an aging in place environment can reduce the chance of burns or kitchen fires. Induction uses electric current through metal cooking vessels rather than radiated heat from the surface, so only the pan gets hot not the surface round it.

Induction cook top illustrating safety feature. Still looks a little like a magic trick.

When was the last time you got up in the middle of the night to grope your way in the dark to the bathroom? Not a big deal unless you’re 85 and a fall would be potentially catastrophic.

Luna Lights is another innovation that combines a pressure-sensitive pad on the bed with wall-mounted path lights that come on and go off automatically. There’s no pendant to where and no buttons to press.

Luna lights in action.

The software package that comes with the lighting kit records each event and notifies caregivers when in use or when habits change on any smartphone or computer.

It’s hard to put a price on knowing if your aging parent gets up in the middle of the night but doesn’t return back to bed in 10 minutes. Or if they start making multiple trips that might indicate one of several medical problems.

Luna app in action.

While originally designed for the senior care facilities, where it has proven to reduce falls, there are plans for introduction to the residential market as well.

To read more about our universal design projects visit us at and type in “universal design” in the search window.

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