Best Smart Home Devices for Seniors Aging in Place
When you’re making an aging-in-place plan with a loved one, personal safety should be a top priority. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one out of four people 65 and older fall each year. The US Fire Administration (an entity of FEMA) says that the same age group is 2.5 times more likely to die in a fire than the population as a whole. Smart-home devices can help you keep tabs on some of those worries and possibly save your loved one’s life, notifying both emergency services and contacts, whether they’re on the other side of town or the other side of the country. Although we reiterate that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, we think everything on the following list could apply to all ages and health conditions.
Smart smoke detectors
Everyone should have working smoke detectors throughout the house, but there’s concern about how easily an older person can hear an alarm—and how quickly they might react to it. Smart smoke detectors not only deliver an audible siren inside the house but can also alert friends, neighbors, and caregivers via smartphone alerts.
This smoke and carbon monoxide alarm warns of danger by voice and siren, and sends smartphone alerts to as many as six contacts. It also has a self-check feature and built-in night-light.
Available in hardwired and battery versions, the Google Nest Protect responds quickly and reliably to actual danger—and not every time someone cooks bacon or takes an extra-long hot shower. Once it detects smoke or carbon monoxide, it triggers a loud voice alert to let you know which room the danger is in and that it will trigger its siren shortly, which is a great feature as it lets someone nearby pause the alarm before the siren goes off. It also sends smartphone alerts, which you can set up to go to family, friends, neighbors, and caregivers (as long as they have the Google Home app). Note that you can’t silence an alarm via the app unless you are in close proximity to the Nest Protect.
Another important feature of the Nest Protect is its self-testing feature, which regularly confirms that all is in working order and eliminates those irritating late-night low-battery chirps. Also, we love the integrated, motion-activated night-light, which can guide someone to a late-night snack or bathroom trip as well as turn red when the alarm is triggered.
If you’re not ready to replace (and trash) existing smoke detectors, the Roost Smart Battery can smarten up almost any smoke detector already running in a home (so long as it uses replaceable 9-volt batteries). The Roost Smart Battery is a 9-volt battery with a tiny clip-on smart module containing a microphone that monitors for sirens, plus a Wi-Fi chip for sending alerts over the internet to a smartphone. Just pop it into an existing smoke detector, and when an alarm sounds, it will send smartphone alerts to anyone on a custom call list. It doesn’t work with hardwired smoke detectors that don’t use a 9-volt backup or with battery-operated models that use AA or AAA batteries.
Smart emergency contact systems
Typically, emergency contact systems are wearable electronic devices that provide on-call monitoring and may include fall alerts; some charge a monthly fee. For this guide, we also considered nontraditional contact devices, such as smart speakers with emergency alert features. Having a way to contact emergency services is an absolute must. However, we prefer the following smart options, which don’t require a contract, can be used every day, and incorporate a variety of convenience features.
The most stylish emergency contact system can detect falls as well as certain types of cardiac events and send help automatically. It also supports HomeKit, so savvy users may control smart devices through voice commands.
The thing about adopting an emergency contact system is that your loved one has to actually wear the device. Our experts suggested that there’s often resistance to the clunky bracelets and necklaces with built-in emergency buttons. “They don’t want to wear them because of the stigma of what that means,” said Andy Miller, senior vice president of innovation and product development at AARP. “It makes them feel old.” The Apple Watch is a more discreet option than any other emergency contact system out there—probably because it wasn’t designed as an emergency contact system. It’s a smartwatch that can make and take calls, stream music, control HomeKit-enabled smart-home devices via Siri voice commands, and more.
However, the most important Apple Watch features for this guide’s purposes are its built-in fall detection (Series 4 or later models only) and a side button that can call emergency contacts. It can also share medical information (such as blood type and medications) and activity (including ECG stats) with emergency responders. It even works with apps like FallCall, which can trigger a central monitoring station (versus 911) via Siri voice commands or an icon on the watch.
One important note: To contact emergency services, the base-model Apple Watch must be paired with an iPhone that’s within Bluetooth range or connected to a known Wi-Fi network (with Wi-Fi calling enabled). If that’s a concern inside or outside the home, opt for a pricier model with GPS and a cellular plan (which costs extra). We also recommend pairing the Apple Watch with a bedside wireless charger, which increases the cost but also the functionality.
If your loved one doesn’t want a wearable, consider installing an Amazon Echo Dot in the house. The Dot (a smaller and less expensive version of an Echo smart speaker) runs on the Alexa voice-control platform, allowing anyone to control it by merely making a verbal command like “Alexa, call Rachel.” It can’t travel and doesn’t connect users to 911 services, but it does provide two ways to put your loved one in touch with emergency contacts, such as family, friends, and caregivers. If you enable Alexa Calling, your loved one can use voice commands to call other Alexa devices (such as yours) or any phone number in the Alexa app’s contact list. We also recommend enabling a third-party application (called a Skill in the Alexa app) such as Ask My Buddy or My SOS Family, which can alert multiple contacts simultaneously via phone calls and text messages.
In November 2020, Amazon launched Alexa Care Hub, a free collection of services for checking in on loved ones. A new emergency calling feature means you no longer have to call out a name; just say “Alexa, call for help,” and Alexa devices will call a designated emergency contact, as well as send a text and smartphone notification (via the Alexa app) to that person. Another new feature is the Activity Feed, which allows you to keep tabs on your loved one’s activity. For instance, it will show when they turn on smart lights, play music, or if a connected camera sees them moving about the house or when they ask about the weather. In addition to monitoring the activity feed, you can set up alerts to get notified about activity or if no activity has been detected after a specified amount of time.
Aside from the emergency help features, an Echo Dot (or any Echo smart speaker) is great for playing music, listening to news and weather reports, playing trivia games, and calling friends. Alexa can also control most of the other devices mentioned here, making them accessible via voice commands.
Smart displays and voice communication devices
Smart screens make keeping in touch easier and more personal than a simple phone call. These devices connect to the home’s Wi-Fi network, allowing for video and voice calls to family, friends, telemedicine appointments, emergency services, and more. They also have voice control, which allows the user to call up those contacts, as well as news, weather, trivia, and more, via voice commands. We also recommend adding one of these screens because they can serve as a hub for other smart-home devices, allowing you to integrate different brands; for example, motion near the Arlo Video Doorbell can trigger the Wyze Bulb, and so on. If you’d like to learn more, our blog post goes into more details on how to do smart-display video chats.
Alexa allows users to instantly chat with loved ones and caregivers. The device also doubles as a Zigbee wireless hub, allowing control of more smart-home devices than you can get with any other voice platform.
The Echo Show is Amazon’s smart speaker with a built-in screen and camera, and like the Dot, it’s an excellent tool for consuming media and news. However, experts we spoke with especially like it because it also happens to be a great communication tool. “Voice-enabled technologies provide a little bit of information and social interaction for people who live alone primarily,” said Laurie Orlov, founder and principal analyst at Aging and Health Technology Watch. “A smart speaker is so nice for them, because they can ask a question and hear a voice.” The Echo Show also provides a streamlined way for family members and caregivers to “drop in” for a two-way video chat, a feature that allows Alexa users to have an instant conversation, just like on a two-way intercom. (If only one party has an Alexa device, that’s okay: Video chats also work with the Alexa app on any smartphone.)
More tech-savvy people can use Alexa on the Echo Show to schedule Reminders about appointments and medication doses, watch videos about cooking, or view closed captioning (when available). The 10-inch screen can also call up the Show and Tell feature, in which blind and low-vision users can identify grocery items simply by holding them up to the Echo Show’s camera and asking “Alexa, what am I holding?”
People with speech issues may have problems using Alexa, which means it may not be the ideal option for everyone. Amazon says it is working with NLU (natural language understanding) artificial intelligence to evolve the Alexa platform; in addition, to address such concerns, the company recommends using the app, submitting feedback, and even changing the wake word. If you have concerns about using Alexa’s voice capabilities, review Amazon’s 30-day return policy before making a purchase.
This tablet has a large screen that’s easy to see and control. The iPad also includes Siri voice control, is portable enough to take anywhere in the house, and makes it easy to have video and audio calls with family, friends, and caregivers.
While not typically thought of as a smart display, the Apple iPad tablet is highly recommended by experts we talked to due to its easy-to-use touchscreen, portability, and large screen size, as well as the Siri voice-control system. Users can ask Siri to play music, announce the weather, schedule reminders and timers, and even turn on smart lights. Manual controls are also easier on a tablet than a smartphone because the app icons are big, so they’re easy to see. And because the iPad is portable, your loved one can take it from the bedroom to the kitchen to the living room and use it to make and take calls from family, friends, telemedicine services, and more.
Like Amazon’s devices, Apple’s iPad can provide news, weather, podcasts, and other entertainment. However, because it taps into the App Store, you can also load games, video streaming services, and anything else your loved one may appreciate. We also like the iPad because it can combine multiple smart-home devices with one voice command: For instance, loved ones can say “Siri, turn on the living room” to power several lights—and those lights can be combined with smart plugs, cameras, and other smart devices, as long as they support Apple HomeKit. Siri voice commands and Apple’s HomeKit platform are not compatible with as many smart-home devices as Alexa. However, if your loved one is a little tech-savvy, they can also use the iPad to access the apps for all of the devices we mention elsewhere in this guide.
“Nothing to me is more powerful than an iPad,” said Oak Hill NEAT Center’s Kris Thompson. “The accessibility that’s built in, magnification capabilities, voice control with Siri, hands-free control, access to calling without having to remember numbers, access to email, texting, social media, ride-share services, internet access, reminders, games—it’s just so powerful.”
Smart contact sensors
Several sources, including the World Health Organization, the National Institute on Aging, and the Alzheimer’s Association, point out that people with dementia often wander away from home. Contact sensors, small devices that you can attach to any door, can alert you when doors (or windows) have been opened, are safely shut, or have been left open for too long. When the sensors are attached to the front and back doors, you’ll know when someone is coming and going. You can put them on windows so that they let you know if someone forgot to close the living room window before bed, for example, or put one on the refrigerator door so that you know your loved one is remembering to eat. “I’ve had people come into the Smart Home on Wheels absolutely frantic because their loved one was just diagnosed with dementia,” said Thompson. “They need to buy time. They need things like sensors and ways to increase safety.”
Many smart contact sensors are tied into security systems or specific platforms (such as Alexa, HomeKit, and SmartThings). All of them can integrate with other smart devices so that opening a door can trigger a light, a voice announcement, or even a call to the police.
This standalone sensor is easy to install and doesn’t require a full security system or a smart-home hub. In addition to sending open and close alerts, it can alert you to device tampering or when the battery runs low.
If you’re planning to get a home security system, such as Ring Alarm or SimpliSafe, buy the sensors that work with that specific system. Otherwise, we recommend putting the Monoprice Stitch Wireless Smart Door/Window Sensor on the home’s front and back doors. You can customize the system to send alerts when the door has been opened or closed, as well as if the sensor has been tampered with or has low battery power. You can also use the app to check the status of doors and windows and see the history of when a door or window was opened and closed.
And because the sensor works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, it can pair with other smart devices around the house to make life a bit more convenient. For instance, we set Routines in the Alexa app that would announce “the back door is open” on the Amazon Echo Show and trigger a smart light bulb to turn on if the door had been left open for five minutes.
Though rates change annually, on average about one in 50 US homes file an insurance claim each year due to water damage (including freezing), according to the Insurance Information Institute. How devastating those events become often depends on how quickly they’re discovered. Instead of depending on occasional spot-checks, set up a few smart water-leak sensors in your loved one’s home near areas where potential leaks may happen, such as by the water heater, as well as by the tub, sink, or toilet in case they forget or don’t notice that the water is running. Once you’ve set the sensors up, if water is present, the system will send an alert to your smartphone. Some even emit an audible alarm or trigger lights and sounds so that your loved one can tackle small leaks before they become a big headache.
The D-Link DCH-S161 isn’t our top pick among water-leak sensors, but we think it’s the best choice for remotely monitoring leaks at a loved one’s home. It uses two AA batteries, so it’s easy to place. Then, the presence of water triggers a loud, 80-decibel alarm inside the home, which you or your loved one can silence in the app or via a button on top of the device. The D-Link sensor also sends smartphone alerts when water is present, when the issue is resolved, or if the device loses power.
We also like that this model supports IFTTT (If This Then That), which allows you to link it to another smart device with just a few clicks. For instance, we set up a Rule that whenever the D-Link device detects water, it will turn a smart light bulb on in the living room.
Everyone forgets to lock the door now and then. Smart locks make it easy to check the status of doors and can lock or unlock them remotely if need be. A smart lock is especially helpful if you’re worried about a loved one who tends to wander, or if you just want to make sure the house is locked up for the night. And smart locks are equally handy if the person aging in place forgets their keys or is expecting family, friends, neighbors, caregivers, delivery people, service providers, or other visitors. Although many smart locks also offer a keypad option, we don’t recommend those models for anyone with memory issues.
Designed to work with an existing deadbolt, this smart add-on allows you to lock and unlock the door remotely and to auto-lock the door after it’s closed. The Wyze Lock also sends notifications when the door has been left open.
The Wyze Lock isn’t the most advanced smart lock, but it is the easiest to set up and use—and one of the cheapest we’ve tested. Since it attaches to an existing deadbolt and adds only a modest housing to the internal side of the door, to your loved one it looks and acts the same as ever, so they can continue to use a key if they prefer. But its built-in smarts allow you to lock and unlock the door remotely, and you can choose to receive smartphone alerts whenever the door is accessed or left open. And if your loved one ever forgets or misplaces their key, you can use that same tech to unlock the door for them remotely.
Note that the auto-lock feature is on by default, so you may want to disable that or at least set it so it will auto-lock only after a certain amount of time—not, for instance, while your loved one pops out to get the mail.
Cameras and monitoring
While you probably don’t want a 24/7 feed of what your loved ones are doing, security cameras are helpful when you’re caring for someone remotely. A live video feed lets you know when someone is moving about the house, alerts you to who is coming to the front door, and even documents falls for health professionals. All the experts we spoke with cautioned that the decision to put a camera into someone else’s home should not be made lightly and should be made in conjunction with the senior who will be living with them. Some people find a camera to be intrusive, and it can be very scary for anyone with memory issues.
This doorbell can alert you to people, packages, animals, and cars going by. It also has a wide-angle lens that can provide a full picture of who or what is in front of the door, from head to toe.
If your loved one gets visitors and packages, a smart doorbell camera is a must. It allows you to screen whoever comes to the door from anywhere in the world, regardless of whether the guest rings the bell. When someone does ring the bell, a normal doorbell sound plays for the senior at home, but a smartphone notification also comes to you. From there, you can opt to answer the door remotely or just keep a record of who is coming and going—and how long they were hanging around. “Video doorbells are great, especially if [the person living with them is] having mobility challenges,” said City of Hope’s William Dale. “Maybe the house is a little big for them or they have to be in a far part of the house, and getting all the way to the doors becomes a challenge.”
We like the Arlo Video Doorbell because it can distinguish between people, packages, animals, cars, and general motion—and alerts you accordingly. This means you won’t be bothered every time raccoons visit (although you’ll know to cover those trash cans). Those advanced alerts require a subscription to Arlo Smart, which provides 30 days of video storage for $3 per month. That fee also includes access to e911, a service that connects you to the closest 911 dispatch center no matter where you’re calling from; just make sure the address listed in the Arlo app matches where the camera is located.
Putting a camera into a loved one’s home can offer peace of mind by allowing you to remotely monitor home visits, movement, and whether someone is taking their medicine. All the experts we spoke with, though, cautioned that installing indoor security cameras needs to be a decision made between you and your loved one. Some people may find it to be a violation of privacy, and others may find it frightening. “Transparency should be obvious. Nobody likes to be monitored without knowing,” said Dale. “These kinds of things have to be really carefully thought about rather than just assumed that it’s okay.” Talk about why it’s important to the person living with the camera, how it works, and how you can use it to communicate, since most cameras come equipped with a speaker and microphone.
We like the Wyze Cam v2 because it’s easy to install anywhere and inexpensive to run. You can opt to use a microSD card and record 24/7 footage or just motion-activated events. Add a subscription for a mere $1.50 per month (per camera), and you will have access to 14 days’ worth of clips, even when the power or the Wi-Fi goes down. If you’re set on a cheap security camera, but you’re not in a hurry, you may want to hold out for the Wyze Cam v3; we’re currently testing this model and plan to have a review soon.
The Arlo Q isn’t as small or cheap as the Wyze Cam, but it offers the option to upgrade to more specialized alerts, so you won’t get smartphone notifications every time your loved one’s pet walks by. Adding Arlo Smart for $3 per month unlocks the camera’s ability to distinguish between people, animals, and general motion. It can spot cars and packages, too (although we assume there won’t be too many of the former indoors). Without the subscription, the Arlo Q is still a good camera, delivering 1080p images and providing clear two-way audio so you can have a conversation with your loved one if needed. It also includes seven days’ worth of free video storage, which is helpful if you don’t want to check in on every alert or need to find a recent incident to share with a doctor.