Aging in Place: A Primer

Ed Wenck | Jan 14, 2019
Ric Johnson, owner of the firm Right at Home Technologies, is a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS) in the state of Ohio — a certification issued by the National Association of Home Builders. Although Johnson specializes in assisting patients with Alzheimer’s and early onset dementia and their families, the tech he’s using has potential for broad applications in the rapidly growing “Aging in Place” market.
Johnson sums up the challenges here: “Many of the patients we work with initially display symptoms of ‘night timers’ — they’re fairly symptom-free throughout the day, but as dusk and nighttime approach, they tend to become forgetful, think they are somewhere else (and with someone else), and display confusion, fear, and sometimes anger. Additionally, we see a rise in wandering, slips, and falls. These common issues are a constant worry for caregivers and other family members who do not live with the individual or close by.”
As a result, says Johnson, “We see increased interest in remodeling one’s home to age comfortably, and we also see adult children taking in a parent and needing the addition of a room or a suite of rooms. Then there are couples that are looking to the future and wanting to downsize into a new home so that they can age gracefully together.”

A Wired Backbone Plus the Right Devices

  “For the standard CAPs build, either a remodel or new construction, a structured wired backbone is essential,” says Johnson. “While we have a lot of wireless devices and apps, they need a robust Wi-Fi network … We find that providing an enterprise-grade router and switch, along with properly placed and calibrated Wireless Access Points (WAPS), allow our wireless devices to connect clearly. We use a backbone of both Category 6 cabling with runs of fiber to very specific locations such as bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen.”
Johnson and his team run wire paths in hallways, baths, bedrooms, and kitchen cabinets for very specific purposes. “When we have an individual that tends to wander at night, we place pressure pads along the edge of the bed or in the bathroom. Those pads trigger program notifications if a motion detector is tripped in the nighttime hours, sending an email or text message to caregivers and family members. While we provide a wireless pill minder, we also monitor the cabinet where medicines are kept with a small hard-wired door sensor. We monitor for falls and slips with an RFID bracelet and accelerometer, which has multiple hard-wire readers placed around the house.

“In all of our projects, we start with developing a lighting plan around the family’s lifestyle,” Johnson notes. “As we age, our eyesight begins to reduce, thus the need for more lighting. LED fixtures and replacement lamps with the proper color hue and lumens are important, as is how we control them. We work to get the most natural lighting possible by utilizing blinds and shades.”

The Cost of Care

  The cost of caring for an aging relative can be daunting. As Johnson notes, “Our experience shows that nursing care runs around $7,250 per month for full service — that includes three meals, snacks, onsite nursing. Alzheimer’s nursing care can start at $9,300 (or more) per month at a specialized facility.”
Renovating an existing home or adding a room or suite of rooms to a home for an aging relative has benefits beyond monthly savings, says Johnson. “Providing upgrades so that an Alzheimer’s patient can stay in a familiar location — and around family members — not only reduces overall cost, but also slows the progression slightly, allowing for a better quality of life.”
As Johnson notes, builders on these projects need to coordinate closely with the electrical contractor and technologist because additional dedicated 20 amp circuits are needed for sensors and other devices.
Additionally, says Johnson, “In some jurisdictions, hospital grade equipment in used and needed in the patient’s bedroom. A very secure network is required, in many cases separate from the house’s internet connection to allow transfer of data between the patient portal and the attending medical staff.”

Safety and Simplicity

  As with an audio/video installation, a properly ventilated equipment rack tucked away in its own lockable closet is often a must. Other considerations: Dedicated wiring space in bathrooms (away from water and plumbing), light switches placed lower on the walls, and receptacle outlets in higher-than-usual locations to make everything easily accessible for a user with limited mobility. “Because we require pressure sensors on the floor and RFID readers embedded in wall locations near the baseboard, additional shielding is necessary to protect the wiring from trim nails and the like.” Another issue: Technology integrators know the proper cabling techniques to ensure that signal interference is eliminated.
But how does one overcome “technology phobia” — how does an integrator make these systems easy to use for BOTH the aging individual and their loved ones?
“First, most of the equipment we provide is hidden and works without additional touch, much like a security system — but in our case, without the arming and disarming functions,” explains Johnson. “Our equipment reports activity or lack thereof. Lighting comes on and off automatically, following the natural progression of the day with additional sensors that keep lights on during times of darkness due to storms or clouds, by using photocells to override programming at those times. 
“Yes, we have touchscreens and keypads, but they are normally used by caregivers for particular reasons. Most of the ‘technology’ is already familiar to the user, such as messaging or emailing alerts, warning lights, and so on.”