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Setting up a Technology hub to Support a Loved one

The bottom line:

  • As more and more seniors choose to age in place, technological solutions could help keep them safe and connected.
  • Loved ones are often charged with installing a tech hub, but a senior should always be involved in every decision made concerning their house.
  • A tech hub can be built up from a couple of devices to many, so you may want to start off by taking it slowly with one or two items, adding devices to provide for changing needs over time.

As more and more of the Irish population choose to age in place, assistive technology solutions to keep them safe and connected have become part of the conversation surrounding staying in their own homes for longer. However, with so much technology available, it’s hard to know which is best suited to any one person’s needs, which often leads to seniors reaching out to trusted family members for help.

If you’ve been tasked with setting up a supportive technology hub for a loved one and aren’t sure where to start, we’ve put together this starter guide to point you in the right direction, making sure everyone’s comfortable and cared for throughout the entire process and for years to come.

Firstly, what is an Assistive Technology Hub for Seniors?

 Technology hubs are pieces of tech that link up to each other, forming somewhat of a network. Hubs can be found worldwide, used for a diverse variety of purposes. However, when it comes to technology hubs specifically geared towards meeting seniors’ needs, they serve a specific purpose: keeping a senior connected and sounding the alarm should anything go wrong.

There is a significant overlap between tech hubs and smart-home devices, including:

  • video cameras that can be used for surveillance, to communicate or monitor who is coming and going
  • smart lighting, especially for hallways and entrances
  • smart plugs fitted with timers to turn heaters and fans on and off at certain times of day
  • sensors to trigger certain actions or send notifications

However, the main difference between the two is that while smart-home devices control users’ surroundings in a home, a tech-hub – which is specifically designed to provide peace of mind to both seniors and their family members – will often also allow others to access these controls, either to monitor them or check-in and make sure everything’s okay. These checks can come in the form of video surveillance, daily calls, notifications about devices used by the senior, or an emergency alarm being pushed – all depending on the types of devices installed and what everyone’s comfortable using.

What are the benefits of smart home devices for ageing in place?

As much as family members would like to be, they can never be around 24/7, so if something does happen, systems need to be in place to ensure our elderly loved ones are kept safe. A supportive tech hub can provide a range of options to alert both family members and the authorities if something’s not right, triggering systems that can be beneficial, if not lifesaving, for seniors – especially those who live alone. In short, smart-home devices can be there when you can’t, providing a connection between elderly loved ones and their families, whether through notifications throughout the day, a video stream or a panic alert if something goes wrong.

What to bear in mind once you’ve installed a senior tech hub.

There are certainly many upsides to having a closer connection to your loved one using the latest tech. Still, it’s worth noting that every angle of a tech hub should be well-thought-through:

  1. The first is the monitoring aspect. If cameras are installed for monitoring, is someone watching them around the clock? Could action be taken quickly enough should something happen, meaning the loved one is immediately removed from danger?
  2. The second is ensuring family members monitoring the tech hub don’t get lulled into a false sense of security through the use of the tech. Just because your loved one has a panic button doesn’t automatically mean they’ll use it, and just because they’re moving around doesn’t mean they’re feeling at their best. Remember to check in with them to see how they’re doing, too – just to be on the safe side.
  3. The third is to maintain communications, that is, to remember that communicating via notifications and video monitoring isn’t communication at all, and if family members cut down on their calls and visits because they know everything’s okay, seniors may actually feel more detached and lonely as a result of the tech. Make sure that’s not the case!

Now that you’ve heard the pros and cons let’s move onto different options of tech hubs.

Types of Supportive Technology hubs – which one is best?

Comfort is vital when deciding which tech solutions will work best in anyone’s home, so when it comes to choosing the best options, it’s key that elderly family member(s) be involved in the conversation to let you know where they are stand. After all, it’s perfectly understandable that anyone ageing in place (or otherwise!) may not want devices and gadgets in every corner of their house, but you won’t know until you ask.

One good thing about installing a tech hub for a loved one yourself is that you can start with one or two devices and build up from there, moulding to needs as they change. This also means you can break your elderly loved one gently into the idea and get them used to each gadget individually, rather than throwing them in at the deep end with more tech than they know what to do with.

Some essential functionalities you may want to start out with include:

  • sensors to remind residents when a door or window has been left open
  • cameras to notify loved ones when a caretaker has arrived or left
  • smoke detectors that send alerts out in the home and to family members should food burn or something catch fire.

However, though these pieces of tech can all be bought separately, it’s worth making sure they interconnect from the offset so that you’re not trying to monitor countless different apps or appliances. If they all connect to one app, it makes everyone’s lives easier!

Other items you may want to add further down the line include:

  • motion sensors
  • water sensors
  • glass-break sensors
  • panic buttons

Two options to consider

Two options of whole-house security systems you can build up as you go along include the Ring Alarm, which you can install entirely yourself. You can then build on the hub to include motion detectors and contact sensors, which send out notifications when windows are opened or closed. As well as reminding seniors to close their windows, these systems let family members know their loved ones are up and about, giving them peace of mind that everything’s okay, all day long. Depending on user needs, a bedside panic button or doorbell camera can also be added, just to make sure they’re covered in any possible scenario.

SimpliSafe’s Essentials kit is another excellent option, which comes with a base station, keypad, one motion sensor, three entry sensors and an indoor camera. Providing reliable monitoring, this system connects to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, which may also make fun additions to your loved one’s house due to their ease of use. If you want to monitor the system via an app, this option gets slightly more expensive. However, it has the added benefit of a Video Verification feature, which allows you to grant camera access to monitoring station staff so that they can see what triggered an alarm if one is sounded, keeping your loved one all the safer and ensuring no extra stress is caused should it be a false alarm.

Six Tips for installing a tech hub

Got the lowdown on the options out there? Then let’s get onto how to go about installing your loved one’s new smart home devices.

1. Talk it through with your loved one first

We’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again. The main person involved in making decisions about their home should always be the person it affects most – in this case, your elderly loved one. Though everyone has their best interests at heart, sometimes opinions may simply differ, so it’s worth remembering to keep the focus on what the tech will do for the person living with it, rather than for any caregivers. Safety, comfort and independence are key, so if it feels like the tech may be infringing on any of those factors, backtrack to a solution everyone’s happy with.

2. Explore all the functionalities of any devices you suggest

Anyone having smart-home devices installed should be well-aware of what they do, how they work and what they’re doing there. Even if they don’t feel comfortable using them yet, your loved ones should have a good idea what they’re letting into their home – it’s only by talking it all through that everyone will know exactly what they’re getting themselves into. Nothing – especially not technology – is one-size-fits-all, after all!

3. Address security concerns

Often less tech-literate than their younger counterparts, seniors may be concerned about their security, especially where the digital world is concerned. However, with a bit of exposure to technologies and explanations as to how things work, how their data is protected and what they can do to keep themselves safe, they are far more likely to be receptive to new devices and feel comfortable welcoming them into their homes.

4. Take it slow

This step goes for both what you install and what you suggest to your elderly loved one. Spreading the information you provide out over several sessions is a good way to approach the idea of a tech hub in the first place, in addition to how to navigate new smart devices, and will give everyone time to adjust to new ideas and all their functionalities.

5. Write it down

Even if you do take it slow, you’re likely to be giving your loved one a lot of new information they don’t know what to do with. Especially when it comes to operating devices in their home, it’s a great idea to write down instructions and put them in helpful places so that the information is easily accessible, in bitesize pieces, exactly when and where it may be required.

6. Adapt devices to meet physical needs

Beyond simply learning to use new tech, some older adults may come up against physical barriers to using their new supportive technology, which may require adaptations to be made. These barriers could range from small screens and buttons being fiddly for those with arthritis, to words on a screen being hard to see for those with impaired vision. The best way to ensure every need is provided for is to carry out a short assessment before you get started. That way, you’ll be able to meet your loved one’s needs as you go along.

elderly man using technology in the home
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