The best smart-home devices for aging comfortably in place

As we get older, we tend to accumulate more things that we need to keep track of – appointments, visitors, coffee tables that we keep bumping into. Meanwhile, routine things like late-night trips to the bathroom can start to feel a little more dangerous.

The good news is that smart home devices – internet-connected versions of household tools that can be wirelessly controlled and automated – can make it all easier to manage, lighting up dark hallways, showing you who’s at the door of entry and helping you stay in touch with loved ones. This all might sound terribly high-tech, but rest assured: if you can use a smartphone app, you can use any of these devices.

Indeed, one of the great benefits of this technology is that it can help aging adults – not to mention their friends, family and caregivers – feel more confident and secure to live independently. Here are some of Wirecutter’s favorite smart devices to help people age comfortably.

SMART SOCKETS are the easiest and cheapest way to integrate smart devices into your home. Simply plug one of these tiny switches into an outlet, follow the instructions to pair it with a smartphone app and your home’s Wi-Fi network, then plug in an on/off device – like a lamp, fan or heater. radiator – for full automation.

This could mean setting the lights on a regular schedule or controlling a device remotely when you’re away from home. The TP-Link Kasa EP10 ($17) and Wemo Wi-Fi Smart Plug ($25) are easy to use and compact enough to fit outlets behind furniture, enabling remote control of connected devices so you can ensure that, for example, a lamp turns on at dusk and turns off after sunset.

SMART LIGHTING is easy and popular. With smart bulbs, you can use an app to control the bulbs remotely or set them on a schedule; an ‘away’ mode triggers lights randomly so your home looks occupied when you’re not there. Smart LED bulbs like the Wyze Bulb Color ($15) are the easiest and cheapest ways to add smart lighting — just screw the bulb into any standard light fixture and pair it with a app on your phone or tablet.

Philips Hue bulbs are more expensive (a three-pack costs around $100), but offer a large ecosystem of bulbs that work together. (They require the use of a special hub, a small puck that connects to your home’s Wi-Fi router and boosts the wireless signal.)

Smart bulbs don’t work as well for those who prefer to turn lights on and off with a switch. If you’re not ready to give up the feel and function of a switch, Hue bulbs can be paired with a smart adapter, like the Lutron Aurora ($40), which clips onto an existing toggle switch. A more useful and permanent solution is an in-wall smart switch and dimmer, like Lutron’s Caséta Wireless In-Wall Smart Dimmer ($90). This makes regular bulbs act like smart bulbs, but installation is more involved and may require an electrician.

SMART SPEAKERS come in a number of sizes and can play music, podcasts and news around the house. Best of all, they let you use voice commands to control the most popular smart devices, so you can turn off the lights on the kitchen floor or adjust your thermostat from the couch without even opening apps on your phone. smartphones.

Most smart home devices are compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant digital assistants, which work like speakers. Amazon Echo Dot ($50) and Google Nest Mini ($40) are both inexpensive and compact enough to fit on a shelf or counter. For Apple users, Siri can be used to control HomeKit smart devices through your iPhone or the $99 Apple HomePod Mini.

A SMART VIDEO RINGTONE alerts you when someone is at the door and allows you to see and speak with the person whether or not you are in the house — especially useful for people with mobility issues. If you share doorbell access with friends, family or caregivers who have the same app, a video doorbell can alert others to movement around the door, even if no one rings the doorbell. door.

The Arlo Essential Wired Video Doorbell ($150) can distinguish whether that motion is caused by people, packages, animals, or cars. The Eufy Security 2K Video Doorbell (Battery Powered) ($200) can only tell the difference between people and general movement, but it’s fine for users who don’t have an existing doorbell. The rechargeable battery can operate for up to four months on a full charge.

SMOKE DETECTOR should be a device in every home, but a smart smoke detector like the Google Nest Protect ($120) can simultaneously sound an alarm and send smartphone alerts to you and up to six others in the event of a real emergency.

If you want extra protection, a whole-home security system can monitor fire and flood threats and alert you if someone leaves the house in the middle of the night or if a door or window is left open. too long. DIY systems like Ring and SimpliSafe have options for door and window sensors, motion sensors, security cameras, and even video doorbells and cameras. All of these can be connected to professional monitoring services, which check for suspicious activity 24/7 and can alert close contacts and emergency medical workers when needed. (Ring and SimpliSafe have service plans that start at $18 per month.)

For some, any modern technological device can be too much to handle and would be best handled by friends, family members or caregivers. If you’re the person helping an older loved one, smart devices can provide round-the-clock monitoring without being intrusive or complicated. However, the decision to install and use the technology in someone’s home should be made together; people living with technology need to know what devices will be installed and understand how they can help them feel safer and live more independently.

SMART SCREENS go beyond the basics of smart speakers, allowing caregivers and telemedicine providers to stay in touch with seniors — and they’re much more personal than a phone call. Smart displays also use voice commands, which means they act as a sort of control center for listening to music, making phone calls, controlling smart lights, viewing live video from security cameras and doorbells, and trigger any other smart device.

The Amazon Echo Show 8 ($130) is a smart display — essentially a display with a smart speaker — that fits easily on a counter, table, or shelf with a sufficiently large eight-inch touchscreen to be seen from a distance but not extremely large. The device’s Drop In feature is particularly useful, allowing two-way video chats with other Alexa users or anyone with the Alexa app.

Apple’s iPad (from $329) is a tablet with a large 10.2-inch touchscreen that functions much like a smartphone, with app icons that are easy to see and use. The iPad supports face-to-face calls using Apple FaceTime, but also works with popular apps like Zoom and Skype, and can receive voice commands for Siri to play music, schedule timers or turn on smart lights.

When someone wears an Apple Watch (from $329), a Guardian can receive alerts about certain heart events or if the wearer has fallen. The watch can also contact emergency services. While you can choose to pair your watch with an iPhone, models that support cellular service can be set to work independently, so the wearer can be monitored in an emergency from anywhere.

INTELLIGENT SENSORS are tiny, usually battery-powered, wireless devices that can be placed on doors, windows, cabinets, and other places to monitor activity throughout the home. Depending on your needs, the sensors can be configured to send an alert to a caregiver when an area is accessed, but they can also be paired with other smart devices. The Aqara motion sensor ($20) can be set to send an alert whenever something crosses its field of vision – a person, perhaps, who has gotten out of bed and walked down a hallway.

Likewise, the Aqara Door and Window Sensor can be placed in areas where you want instant notification of activity, such as your medicine cabinet, front door, or even your fridge. (Aqara sensors require the use of a hub, such as this $50 plug-in model.)

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Lance B. Holton