The main purpose of Home monitoring technology is to help the elderly live independently and safely in their own home for as long as possible. Sensors passively monitor the activity of your parents or elderly relative in their own home, establish behaviour patterns and if there’s anything out of the normal, raise an alarm.
Your parents may be a bit sensitive to the idea of “monitoring” their lives – who wouldn’t be. The key words are “sensors” and “passive” – there is no Big Brother (you or anyone else) watching or recording their every move. Most of the elderly monitoring sensors in this article activate when something goes wrong – which likely means someone needs help.
There are different types of home sensors to monitor different things, and as technology improves, this list keeps growing. In this guide we will run through some of the main home sensors for the elderly you can buy as part of a home monitoring service.
Home monitoring service providers (sometimes known as “telecare” providers) differ in the amount of sensors they include and how customisable they are. For more information on providers and to find a solution that works best for your relative’s individual needs, read our guide to the Best Home Monitoring Systems for the Elderly.
Home monitoring sensors that detect movement
Movement sensors work in two ways – they can detect someone moving around the house and they can also record a lack of movement. If someone hasn’t triggered the sensor at a time they normally do, or if they have left the house and haven’t returned after an abnormally long time, a home monitoring sensor can let you know.
Types of movement monitors
Door sensors, or door contact sensors, allow the monitoring system to have a clear idea of where someone is in their home. They can record how long a door is open and when someone last walked through it. 'Property Exit Sensors' are especially important for older people prone to wandering as they monitor outside doors. They can notify a family member if a front door has been left open, if a door was used at a strange time of night or if someone hasn't returned for a long time. These sensors are really useful when caring for someone with dementia.
Other Motion Sensors
There are a range of other devices that can record and act on movement (or lack of). Some are battery powered and can be placed anywhere, others require a plug outlet. While some are reactive and used just to record activity and compare it to a normal routine, others are proactive and for example can turn on a night light if they sense movement. Perfect for night time trips to the loo.
Home monitoring pressure sensors
Pressure sensors can tell whether someone is sitting or lying on top of them. They are normally used under bed sheets or can be used under the cushion where your elderly relative tends to sit. Just like with the movement sensors they can be programmed to let someone know when someone is there, but also when they aren’t there. They can be used to let you know if someone has got up at a strange time at night, or if they haven’t got up in the morning. Some sensors can even tell if someone has fallen out of bed, or slipped off the sofa.
Bed Occupancy Sensors
Bed occupancy sensors go underneath the mattress and sense when someone is lying on it. They can alert a monitoring team or family member if someone gets up during the middle of the night and they don't return in a set amount of time. They can send an alert if they haven't got up in the morning by a predetermined time. They can also be programmed to turn on a bedside light if they sense that someone has got up in the middle of the night.
Chair Occupancy / Absence Sensors
Chair occupancy sensors are a similar piece of kit to the bed occupancy sensor. However, they are used under the cushion of someone's favourite chair. They work in exactly the same way where if someone hasn't returned to a chair in a long time or someone has been in the chair for a prolonged period, they can alert the necessary people.
Pressure mats are just a different way to record movement through, in and out of the house. They sense when someone steps on it and can help the monitoring service build a better picture of your elderly relative's routine and movement.
Hygiene and Medication Sensors
Home monitoring systems can help carers and family by becoming an extra set of eyes and ears. One of the main aims is to reduce the need to constantly check in on someone in person as the monitoring technology will pick up when something is going wrong. This allows your older relative to live more independently and for you to help them in other ways.
An enuresis or 'incontinence' sensor is a pad that can go between the sheets and the mattress (or on top of a chair cushion) and alerts a carer as soon as it detects any moisture. This minimises the need to check up on someone during the night, and also reduces health complications associated with prolonged exposure to urine.
Pill Reminders and Dispensers
Pill reminders and dispensers are designed to make it easy for people who need to take regular medication. They build on the classic Mon, Tues Wed... plastic pill organisers that we all recognise by using technology to remind people to take pills, stop them from taking more than they should, and to let a carer know when someone has or hasn't taken their medication.
The incidence of epileptic seizures can get more common as people get older. If you are caring for someone with a history of epileptic episodes then an epilepsy sensor can be a potential aid for monitoring them during the night. Placed under where they sleep, these sensors can determine whether someone is having a seizure and raise an alarm. Much like enuresis sensors, epilepsy sensors can reduce the need for constant check-ups, and promote night-time independency.
Kitchen & device-use sensors
Device-use sensors can help build a better picture of someone’s daily routine and let a carer know remotely if someone is or isn’t going about their daily routine. They can also help a carer know that someone is eating regularly, which can be a real concern.
Turning the kettle on for a morning tea or coffee is unconsciously one of the first things many of us do as part of our normal morning routine. In the absence of a bed occupancy detector, a sensor in the kettle can not only help establish what someone's routine is, but be one of the first markers that something isn't right.
Having a fridge sensor allows a telecare system to build a much more detailed view of someone's routine. Opening the fridge is a good indication that someone is making meals/eating regularly.
Other appliance sensors
You can get plug sensors that let you know when any chosen electrical appliance is turned on or off for example the TV. This can establish what a normal routine looks like and whether there are any subtle early markers that something is a miss.
Safety & security home sensors for the elderly
One of the key aspects to feeling reassured that your elderly relative is able to live safely and independently at home is that you would be alerted as soon as anything went wrong. We all have left the hob on, burnt something or forgot about a tap running at some point. But what makes these instances more dangerous to older people is that they may not hear an alarm or be able to respond quickly. Home sensors for the elderly can look out for problems as early as possible, alert both the resident and the carer, and minimise the risk of anything bad happening.
Home monitoring smoke alarms work in much the same way as a normal smoke alarm would, but with a few key extras. Firstly, by being connected to a monitoring service not only will an alarm go out within the home if smoke is detected, but both a carer and the emergency services can be notified if required. This shifts the responsibility from the older person to seek help and makes sure it arrives as soon as possible. Secondly, by being monitored you will know the second the alarm is low on battery or has a fault, so there is never a time when you are unprotected.
Carbon Monoxide Sensors
Carbon Monoxide is a by-product of burning the gas we use in our stoves and in heating. It is really difficult for humans to detect and fatal if leaking into a confined space. Carbon Monoxide sensors monitor the levels constantly and, just like monitoring smoke alarms, alert everyone necessary as soon as levels go above normal.
As with the two previous alarms, home monitoring gas detectors can tell if there has been a gas leak or if someone has forgotten to turn the hob off. If an elderly resident is sleeping and can't respond to the audible alarm an alert will also be sent to the monitoring team and/or a chosen family member/carer.
There are a few types of home monitoring temperature sensors. First - heat detectors which can be used instead of smoke alarms, for example in the kitchen, to tell if there is a fire. Second - extreme temperature sensors look for excessively high or low temperatures, and alerts the monitoring team if it notices temperatures that are dangerously high or low, for example, low enough to cause hypothermia. Finally - ambient heat sensors can keep an eye on the temperature of the house and, if connected to an app, allow you to see the temperature and make sure your relative is comfortable.
If a tap is left running in the bathroom or kitchen, it might be an indication that they are not okay. Maybe they have fallen or slipped and were unable to turn it off. Flood detectors go on the floor and will alert the monitoring team as soon as they sense water.
Lots of houses are now installing smart video doorbells to protect their home and to enable them to see who is at the door and even answer the door when they're not home. As part of a home monitoring system, video doorbells can be accessed by a family member so that they can see who's at an elderly relatives door, and be alerted when someone leaves or enters. Smart doorbells can help elderly people to feel less vulnerable and prevent doorstep scammers from taking advantage of them.
Key safes are an integral part of any holistic home monitoring system. An outside key safe, accessable by a code, negates the need for multiple people to have keys while still enabling people to access the home in case of emergency.
How do home monitoring sensors work?
Home monitoring services also differ with how the tracked behavoural information is used. Some packages are connected to an app that carers can download, or a website, that shows you the daily routine and sends you a notification if anything seems wrong. Others will have a monitoring team who will call you or your parents if something seems amiss.
When you first install home monitoring sensors, the first thing the provider will do is work with you to establish what a normal routine is. They will do this via a mixture of asking you to set some rough times, and monitor current activity and record it as the norm. For example, you might input times of when someone usually goes to bed and wakes up, and the technology will work to that, alerting help if someone hasn’t gone to bed or woken up by a certain time (e.g. 1 hour after they normally do).
Are elderly monitoring sensors intrusive?
This is a big concern for most people, as quite rightly they fear an invasion of their privacy. However, the emphasis is on ‘passive monitoring’ and they are designed to be as unobtrusive and discreet as possible. Of the sensors mentioned above, only smart doorbells have cameras, which face out of the house and therefore you can reassure your parent or elderly that there are no ‘spy’ cameras inside their home.
Home monitoring services also have strict privacy policies in place and will only be able to access data on your parent’s activity when something is reported as abnormal. Even if you use an app, you will only be able to see activity after logging in with a password.
We understand that generationally there can be a fear of technology. The emphasis needs to be placed on how this type of tech enabled care can help older people to stay living at home safely and independently for as long as possible.