It used to be that when your health began to decline in old age, it was time to move into an aged care facility, or at very least into a downstairs bedroom at a family member’s house.
But that was before so many products and services were available to make your own home a comfortable, safe place for as long as you wish to stay.
Plenty of companies now cater to the natural desire to ‘age in place’ and the Australian Research Council has even set up a Research Hub for Digital Enhanced Living to investigate how even more and better products can be developed to allow older Australians to live independently for longer.
If you’re worried about your own ability to stay in your own home, or want to help a loved one do so safely, it’s worth checking out these ideas, ranging from comfort-height toilets for those with mobility or joint issue to motion detectors for falls and smart utensils for eating, that could make life easier. You may be surprised at what’s out there!
The bathroom is a good place to start when renovating a home for old age, because the combination of water and smooth surfaces make it one of the most dangerous rooms in the house when it comes to having a fall.
You’ll already be familiar with old-style aids such as grab rails that can be placed on walls near the bath and shower, but they can look unsightly. Now, however, Aussie bathroom company Caroma has a special range of bathroom wares that are practical but look no different – and maybe even better – than normal bathroom fixtures and fittings.
For example, the Cleanflush toilet has a rimless design to make easier and quicker to clean even with reduced mobility in your hands. If you have painful joints or reduced leg strength, the Easy Height toilet range is recommended because it’s 4 centimetres taller than a regular toilet and thus easier to get on and off.
Likewise, lever-style taps help age-proof a bathroom (and the kitchen) because they don’t require hand strength to turn on and off.
Most builders are familiar with adding ramps outside the home to replace stairs, but inside, Stannah stairlifts (they’re a lot less bulky than they used to be!) can be of assistance if it’s not possible to move your bedroom downstairs.
Meanwhile, non-slip flooring that also has some cushioning beneath can cut the risk of a fall in the kitchen or laundry.
Australian company eHomeCare, which develops technology for healthy ageing, has a selection of ageing-in-place products available, including a Voice Panic Detector. While you might expect to be able to use your phone in case of a fall or other medical emergency, that may not be possible, which is where the detector comes in.
Unlike more common panic buttons, the Voice Panic Detector doesn’t require you to be nearby or to have it to hand – instead, it uses intelligent voice activation to pick up words of distress and automatically call 000. Don’t worry, though, the ambulance won’t turn up every time you slam your finger in a door! The detector is set up to recognise only certain phrases
A smart fall detection system is another eHomeCare product. This device, which could easily pass for a piece of nice costume jewellery, is designed to be worn around your neck and connected to both your own and your loved ones’ smartphones so even if you have a fall when out and about, the device can detect that you’ve fallen, send an alert to your family and direct emergency services to your location.
Australia’s trusted CSIRO, through the Australian e-Health Research Centre, has another option that’s currently in trial; a sensor system called Smarter Safer Homes that does everything from monitoring your home environment to connecting you to family and friends.
The Smarter Safer Homes set-up can sense motion, light, temperature, vibration and power usage throughout the house and so detect when there is a change in routine – perhaps caused by a fall or illness – and alert your trusted contacts.
It also connects with video-conferencing systems to make contacting family members easier and even has a feature that allows you to send key health readings such as blood pressure, glucose levels, weight and body temperature to your healthcare providers, saving you a trip to the doctor.
Before signing up to a sensor or fall-detection system, however, make sure you check whether it comes with a subscription fee in order to be connected to a call centre that will assist you to obtain help, and if so, that that fee fits your budget.
You’re no doubt up to date on the wonders of smart watches and tables, wearable devices and apps that can help you do everything from remember your medication to track your blood pressure.
There are also voice-controlled devices such as Google Home and Amazon Echo that can be used in combination with a smartphone or tablet to operate smart home appliances to, for example, play music or the TV, open and close curtains, control the heating and turn lights on and off.
But the Find-me Watch is an Australian invention that’s worth checking out if you or a loved one need more assistance than just switching TV channels. Designed for people with dementia, including Alzheimer’s Disease, the watch is effectively a personal alarm system that allows the wearer to continue living in their home and moving about the community, while giving their family the peace of mind of knowing their location and that they have access to assistance when needed.
The Find-me Watch also styled to be less complex in appearance than most smart devices, so you don’t need to be up with the latest tech to use it.
The techiest of the utensils out there has to be the Gyenno stabilising spoon, which is designed to offset hand tremors sometimes experienced by people with Parkinson’s Disease or those who’ve had a stroke. The rechargeable utensil adapts to your specific hand movements to ensure food doesn’t fill off the spoon.
There are so many other options, too, if you have arthritis or other hand and arm mobility or muscle control issues or weakness, such as cutlery with special grips and angles, slip-resistant plates and bowls and spill-proof cups and mugs. While using specialised utensils might seem a bit child-like, there’s nothing childish about being able to easily eat when and where you choose, rather than having to rely on a carer or family member to assist.
And if you like to cook but reduced vision is a problem, Vision Australia is a not-for-profit organisation that stocks a wide range of clever kitchen aids, including ‘talking’ microwaves, induction hobs, measuring jugs and scales, water-level detectors so you don’t overfill a mug or utensil and a simple device that can let you know when water in a saucepan has hit boiling point.
Motion-sensitive lighting does exactly what the name suggests, by picking up a person’s movements in the home and turning on the light. Though it sounds simple, these lights can help prevent falls in the home that could occur if you get up often during the night to go to the bathroom or because you have trouble sleeping.
And while most people are aware of the household-name home care providers, there are online platforms you can use to communicate directly with local nurses, care and support workers in your area – cutting much of the administration cost that you’d otherwise pay to a care provider. Lower costs via online platforms such as Mable mean that in-home care could be affordable even without a government-subsidised HCP, allowing you or your loved one to live independently for longer.