Staying safe and comfortable in your home can be a challenge as your age-related needs increase, but technology can provide valuable support
As we grow older, it can become difficult to cope with simple things around the home—climbing stairs, cleaning, preparing meals and washing clothes, for instance.
Moving into a care home isn’t always the solution, as it can be expensive, disrupting and involve giving up a lot of freedoms. A study by the Good Care Group shows that seniors who stay in their homes live longer, have better physical and mental health and can be cared for more economically than if they go into a care home.
Modern Technology's Support
The role of in-home healthcare services will be crucial, but a great deal can now be done with modern technology to make independent living easier.
For instance, home monitoring systems using energy-use data and connected home technology can empower the elderly, or those with additional needs, to live independently for longer.
By monitoring the energy usage of electrical appliances and gathering information from sensors that detect factors such as movement and temperature, the system can build up a pattern of daily behaviour.
Through an app, users can then check in on their family and receive alerts if normal routine is broken.
Such systems can be set up quickly and easily using smart plugs, so no additional wiring is involved. In addition to providing real-time alerts of sudden changes of routine through an app or associated websites, the system can supply regular reports, making it possible to highlight less obvious changes in behaviour.
Of course, not all independent living technology has to be hi-tech. The stairlift was invented by CC Crispen in the 1920s—he called it the ‘inclinator’.
Modern stairlifts come in several types, so there’s almost certainly one suitable for every sort of house. There are types for straight stairs, curved stairs and even outdoor steps (and an alternative for outdoors is a step lift for wheelchairs).
Curved stairlifts are made to measure for each individual staircase; the narrow tubular track takes up little space, and some types will run up the narrow side of the stairs so it leaves the widest possible area free. Often the chair will swivel at the top of the stair to allow easier exit, and accessories such as safety belts and harnesses can aid security.
Fitting of stairlifts is straightforward, normally taking only a few hours, and little structural work is usually needed. The system is usually powered by rechargeable batteries, so it will work even in the case of power failure.
Stairlifts can often be supplied in a range of colours to fit in with your décor, and in most cases, they can be removed when they are no longer needed, leaving only minor fitting marks.
One way to avoid the inconvenience of stairs altogether, if you have the space in your house, is a through-the-floor lift. Types available include platform designs suitable for wheelchairs or enclosed cabins large enough for an ambulant user, a wheelchair user or a wheelchair with attendant.
After use the lift can be sent back downstairs to make space, and the aperture panel in the ceiling closes itself. When needed again the lift is summoned with a remote control. Some models feature extras such as interior lighting, telephone, smoke alarm and other handy gadgets.
Once you’re upstairs, bathroom safety aids come into their own. While assistance in showering, bathing and using the toilet may be necessary eventually, assistive aids can help the user be independent as long as possible.
Sometimes all that is necessary is a simple design change, such as raising the height of a toilet or fitting a grab-handle on a shower wall; shower stools and trolleys can also be a help. In some cases, such as when the user is in a wheelchair, more extensive bathroom adaptations may be needed.
Sometimes a simple device, such as support belt with handles, can be an aid to a carer who could not otherwise cope.
Another common situation is having to turn a patient in bed. Here sliding sheets and turning sheets can help a carer to keep the patient mobile, preventing friction which can cause ulceration and relieving the serious discomfort of pressure sores.
In the bedroom, adjustable beds developed from designs used in hospitals and nursing care have proved very successful. The wide range of models available includes adjustable head and foot, high-low action, cot-sided, single and double sized, with the two sides controlled independently.
An adjustable bed can help with all kinds of medical conditions such as poor circulation, joint and muscle pain, indigestion and pressure sensitivity, and if you spend a lot of time in bed or are completely bedridden, it’s helpful to be able to adjust it to support you sitting up to eat, read or watch television.
Alternatively, a product such as a pillow lift can turn a conventional bed into a one where the head and shoulder area can be adjusted at a more modest cost than a specialist bed.
The pillow lift rests on the mattress, held in place by the user’s own body weight, so it doesn’t require fiddly fixings, and can be easily adjusted with a hand control.
Adjustable beds may also include a massage unit, to help ease aching muscles and joints, to help you sleep better and improve mobility in the morning.
Of course, there are cases of severe immobility where even a wheelchair will not do the job, and here devices such as mobile lifts can reduces the effort for carers and make it easy to lift and manoeuvre patients. A mobile lift requires very little force or special training to operate, and can be steered easily in confined spaces, turned and reversed with the least effort. The size of the patient becomes less of an issue, even when the carer is physically smaller.
Transfer lifts can cope with a whole range of situations, from lifting in and out of bed to a wheelchair or commode, or even into a vehicle.
As the population inevitably ages, demand for assistance in independent living will only increase, and aids like these will make it possible for us to live safely and comfortably in our own homes for much longer.
Co-founder of Howz, Louise Rogerson highlighted this, asserting, “Smart home technology is one way to help people live independently for longer. A smart home monitoring system should be reassuring, easy to set up and adept at collecting data to build a picture of typical routines, so it can let the user know when something is out of the ordinary. It’s all about helping people gain the insight they need to spot any changes early."