17% of the U.S. population is age 65 or older, a figure projected to reach 22% by 2050. In addition, seniors age 80 and older represent the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population—one that’s expected to be more than 19 million by 2050.
Americans are living longer, and they hope to control their own destinies more than ever. Ongoing surveys by AARP, Washington, D.C., confirm that the vast majority of older adults want to age in their own homes and communities or other living arrangements that allow an active lifestyle while experiencing life as safely, comfortably and independently as possible.
A range of cutting-edge electrical technologies can help seniors achieve that goal. Following, key manufacturers and a contractor in this unique space discuss some of these popular products.
A growing demand
“There’s absolutely a growing demand for technology that helps individuals age in place, and it’s coming from all directions, not just new home builds,” said Greg Rhoades, director of marketing, smart and new technology products at Leviton Manufacturing, Melville, N.Y., and a certified aging-in-place specialist. “It may be in an existing home that’s converting a spare room, basement or garage into a mother-in-law suite or in the growing popularity of over-55 communities and senior/assisted-living residences.”
“Ultimately, we want people to be more comfortable in their own homes for as long as they can, and this doesn’t just mean handrails and ramps, but products that help occupants feel more confident in their daily tasks,” Rhoades said. “Some of the more advanced communities employ smart technology like integrated health trackers, reminders for trash night and app-rentable party rooms or electric-vehicle charging spaces. But any which way, there’s a massive opportunity for contractors to help outfit all of these spaces with varying degrees of technology.”
Eric Jerger, VP/GM and business leader for indoor lighting at Cooper Lighting Solutions, Peachtree City, Ga., agreed.
“Technology can greatly simplify the day-to-day life of occupants. Residential lighting technology, in particular, can enhance people’s efficiency and independence as well as elevate their mood, well-being, sense of safety and overall standard of living,” he said.
“For instance, our recently introduced motion sensor detects motion and light and either turns lights on or off, which leads to a well-lit visual environment and a greater sense of security.”
“Smart lighting can also be customized to suit the preferences of residents, whether in their home or in care facilities, to enhance comfort and health,” he said. “This can be achieved by setting various scenes based on the time of day or activity and can also involve dimming or changing the color temperature of lights from warm to cool.”
According to Jerger, another technology that can support seniors’ health is germicidal ultraviolet (GUV) or ultraviolet-C (UV-C) lighting.
“Given the greater risk of health concerns seniors face if they contract a virus or infection, UV-C technology can help keep residential facilities clean,” Jerger said.
Rhoades explained that it is especially important that devices be familiar and highly reliable so users can feel confident.
“Our electricians generally start with simple fixes that can be applied in any home on a small budget, such as motion sensors in the bathroom, timers for the front porch light, and even just something like our Decora light switches, as their large paddle and optional illuminated backlight can be very helpful,” Rhoades said. “Moving beyond that, products like our new antimicrobial wall plates and switches inhibit 99% of bacterial growth, [and] our GFCI Guidelight features embedded LED nightlights so that the two outlets remain free in the bathroom.”
Rhoades said that home buyers, seniors included, find smart technology appealing, especially in new builds.
“For example, a smart plug will avoid them having to bend over to turn off a device and they can stop worrying whether a patio light is on by just scheduling it so it never fails. They can also use their voice to turn off every light and electronic device in the home before bedtime,” he said. “We’ve even embedded Alexa and speakers/microphones into a three-way dimmer so that everyone can communicate, control smart devices and have a command center without any hassle or extra hardware.”
Rhoades said that products such as Leviton’s Load Center with smart breakers allow users to remotely throw a breaker if they inadvertently leave something on or plugged in. It can send a notification if a circuit isn’t pulling the juice it normally should, indicating that there might be an issue in the home.
“Also, our wireless Anywhere Companion pairs to our smart dimmer, switch or plug and can be placed anywhere inside the home to help seniors in wheelchairs access light switches and outlets, which puts control back into their life affordably and without any wiring costs,” Rhoades said. “It’s about supporting customers at every stage of their lives and providing smart new technology as their needs evolve.”
Jerger said that lighting solutions that can easily improve quality of life include motion sensors that trigger lighting for navigating dark areas; dimmable, tunable fixtures for adjusting brightness and color temperature with scene-setting capabilities; and intuitive wall controls that expand functionality without adding high-tech frustrations.
In addition, “Wireless controls connected to commonly used apps/technologies like Alexa and Google Nest enable seniors to turn lights on or off from a centralized location without going to each one manually, while battery-powered controllers add wireless lighting control from anywhere—by the bed, on the coffee table, or even attached to a walker or wheelchair,” Jerger said.
“Our WaveLinx Wired offers robust and feature-rich network lighting control that maximizes residents’ and caregivers’ lighting needs, while our WaveLinx Wireless offers an intuitive, flexible and scalable distributed wireless lighting control system that not only delivers the right light at the right time but also provide the flexibility to update it later and/or upgrade,” Jerger said. “Finally, Cooper’s Trellix Locate helps manage valuable equipment, optimize caregiver work processes and enhance resident well-being with contact tracing, distress alert badges and patient locating.”
Rhoades and Jerger offered advice to help contractors maximize their participation in the growing market for aging-in-place technology.
- Have compassion—When working in senior homes or communities, “let your compassion shine through,” Rhoades said. “Think of how your own family members would benefit from these upgrades and start offering them as recommendations.”
- Get certified—According to Rhoades, “The National Association of Home Builders has a Certified Aging-in-Place certification program, which is very beneficial for those looking to learn more about how to apply simple or smart products to effect real change and life benefits.”
- Apply appropriate technology—“Understand the needs of the seniors you’re working with and recommend the right solution accordingly,” Jerger said. “For example, if safety is their priority, a motion sensor can avoid the need for occupants to fumble in the dark for light switches. Similarly, if they’re in a high-touch environment, UV-C lighting can eliminate the need for constant manual cleaning.”
- Teach users—“Educate seniors and their family members or facility managers on how to use smart technology so that they’re comfortable operating it and won’t have to rely on you if they have questions,” Jerger said.
- Be proactive—“If you’re installing a switch, ask the occupant or facility manager if they want a motion-controlled one instead. Or if you’re installing a new outlet, ask if they want it to be smart,” Rhoades suggested. “Simple upgrades can be made that will benefit seniors in the long-term; it just needs to be a mindset for contractors in these settings.”
- Keep it simple—“Don’t install complicated solutions that frustrate seniors or require them or their caregivers to undergo excessive training,” Jerger said. “In addition, avoid using technology that will become redundant in the future or require multiple upgrades.”