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Baby boomers: Tech updates that help you and your parents age in place

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More than 75 percent of people age 50 and older would prefer to “age in place,’’ according to an AARP study. Globe Staff; Adobe

Once you’ve sprained an ankle or broken a limb in a minor household accident, you may never look at your home the same way. You probably won’t look at your parents’ home the same way, either. Thankfully, new technology and a few tweaks can make your home safer for everyone.

More than 75 percent of people age 50 and older would prefer to “age in place,’’ according to an AARP study. Today “aging in place’’ is frequently labeled “living in place’’ since the same things that can help your 90-year-old grandmother, such as a video doorbell or a smoke detector that issues text alerts, voice instructions, and an alarm, provide peace of mind to every family member. While technology improves people’s health and safety, making sure it is installed correctly and can be controlled appropriately is essential.

“Your home can be designed as not just a place to be, but a place to live a better life,’’ said Tim Costello, CEO of BHI/BDX (Builders Digital Experience) in Austin. “The challenge right now with technology is that it’s in an awkward adolescence. It’s available and economical, but everything tends to be a la carte rather than pulled together in a harmonious package.’’

For many people, that means choosing the types of products that provide the function they want for themselves or their parents. Many can be controlled with a smartphone app or a voice system such as Amazon’s Echo or Google Nest.

Tech updates for safety and security

When remodeling a home for aging in place, the most common automation products and systems installed are for safety, security, and temperature control, according to a recent survey by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

“If your parents live in Seattle and you live in Boston, a monitoring system of some sort gives you a comfort factor,’’ said Laurie Orlov, founder of Aging and Health Technology Watch in Port St. Lucie, Fla. “You’re not spying on them, but if you get an alert that something has changed in their routine, you can give them a call and check in with them.’’

Several companies offer systems that alert a monitoring system or a loved one if someone has fallen or there’s some other indication of a problem. For example, Caregiver Smart Solutions offers packages of sensors that can be placed in several rooms to detect movement, temperature, and humidity that range in price from $129 to $349. Monthly monitoring fees range from $29 to $49.

“I started this system because I was concerned about my father when he was having health problems,’’ said Ryan Herd, CEO of 1 Sound Choice and founder of Caregiver Smart Solutions in Pompton Plains, N.J. “I wanted to know if he was eating and moving around and sleeping. The sensors reduce stress for caregivers.’’

Herd tried to place a camera in his father’s home to keep an eye on him, but his dad, like most people, found it intrusive. When Herd would ask him how he was doing, he’d say “fine’’ even if he wasn’t because he wanted to avoid being a burden to his son.

“Our system isn’t a camera, because no one wants that,’’ Herd said. “It’s not trying to change anyone’s habits, either. It’s also not something that requires anyone to wear a device to track them, either, because many people forget to wear them or take them off when they’re needed most, such as when they take a shower.’’

Herd said older people feel a wearable device with an emergency alert system is a “button of death’’ that reminds them of their vulnerability.

Some wearable devices, such as the Apple watch, are more popular.

“People like them because they look cool and they’re trendy, but they also have a built-in fall-detection alert system that can be really helpful no matter what age you are,’’ Orlov said. “If you’re walking your dog in the winter or you live alone, it’s smart to opt into a system that notifies someone if you’ve fallen.’’

If you’re remodeling, sensors that detect falls and movement can be built into the flooring, so someone can be alerted if the typical pattern of movement has changed, Costello said.

A variety of relatively inexpensive inactivity monitors, such as an alert if someone doesn’t get out of bed, are available with third-party monitoring for as little as $30 to $50 per month, Orlov said.

Other popular tech-safety features are video doorbells and smart lock systems, which allow people to see who’s at the front door, decide whether to answer, and remotely unlock it. For older people, this can avoid the need to get up and rush to the door.

“My sister and I set up a video doorbell and a key code for the front door on my mother’s home,’’ said Paula Kennedy, a Certified Living in Place Professional (CLIPP) and owner of Timeless Kitchen Design in Seattle. “We can share video access and remotely control the door ourselves, too.’’

For older people, a video doorbell and other alarm systems work best if they include multiple cues, Kennedy said. For example, if someone is hard of hearing, it’s smart to keep an iPad or smartphone nearby that will light up when the doorbell rings.

“Voice-activated systems can be great to allow people to live independently and safely for longer because they can control the lights, the temperature, and even call 911 in an emergency without having to get up and walk around,’’ Kennedy said.

Lighting and other improvements

Safety at home doesn’t always require high-tech devices, Orlov said.

“Make sure you have nonskid floors and you get rid of area rugs that you can trip on,’’ she said. “Add a safety runner on a highly polished staircase, and add motion-sensing lights everywhere, especially along the stairs. They sell inexpensive battery-operated lights at Home Depot and Lowe’s, so you don’t need to worry about plugs.’’

Extra under-cabinet lighting in the kitchen can make the space safer for everyone, Kennedy said.

“One of the best things someone can do is to invest in light management with remote-controlled blinds that can be used by anyone with mobility issues,’’ Kennedy said. “Adding lights that go on automatically in your closet and motion sensor lights under your bed and in your bathroom are smart for everyone’s safety.’’

Consistent flooring or extra lighting where the flooring changes can reduce the hazard of falling, Kennedy said.

Smart-tech concerns

A worry concerning smart devices is that hackers will be able to open a lock or gain access to private information through voice-controlled or app-controlled systems. Kennedy recommends hiring an expert to install any system to ensure that it’s adequately protected. Herd suggests asking any manufacturer or installer how they protect your privacy. In addition, he recommends choosing complex passwords.

Before you start purchasing tech devices such as a monitoring system, check to make sure you or your parents have strong enough Wi-Fi to support them, Orlov said.

“Next, make sure the systems are set up properly with the right contact information, so they’ll call your brother, your daughter, your friend, and then your cousin or whoever you want,’’ Orlov said. “I think it’s best to pay for a subscription service that answers 24/7 to see if you’re OK, to send help, and to stay on the phone with you if it’s needed.’’

Whether or not you opt for a full monitoring system or just start with a video doorbell and a smart lock, it’s important to think about your needs or your parents’ needs now and in the future.

“The first thing everyone should do is an assessment of their home environment to make sure it’s physically safe,’’ Orlov said. “Next, you can add technology that will reassure your loved ones that you’re OK. Then, if you want to add some bells and whistles that make you feel better, you can.’’

Michele Lerner can be reached at mvlerner@comcast.net. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at pages.email.bostonglobe.com/AddressSignUp. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter @globehomes.