John Corbett, UK Sales Director at EnOcean, considers how the over 50 generation are using innovative technology to stay independent

Many people, getting older, want to remain independent as long as possible in their own homes. If help from outside should be necessary from time to time, as much independence as possible is still the best medicine. That applies perhaps even more to people living in assisted accommodation facilities such as nursing homes or care homes — in all these cases energy harvesting wireless sensors and wireless switches from manufacturers such as EnOcean can mean much more comfort and convenience, security and dignity.

In coming years we will see a dramatic rise in the average age of the population. Current studies show that there is a great wish to stay living in the surroundings people have become accustomed to, as long as possible and largely without reliance on help from outside. Early improvement of home comfort through modern technologies consequently takes on central importance for many house owners and tenants too — without waiting until they are in their fifties or sixties.

To eliminate any doubts, launching into a new quality of living is not at all difficult. For example, if the belt of a window roller shutter is too heavy, or the handle for sun awnings has to be cumbersomely hooked in to use it on a balcony, a motor-powered drive can make things much easier. Using a conventional rocker switch for operation means you have to decide where to install it and it stays there, restricting the convenience. Whereas, a wireless receiver for the motor drive and a batteryless wall-fitted transmitter make the operation of blinds and shutters much more flexible. A flat wireless switch can simply be placed where it practical for everyday use — such as next to the living room door or on a shelf unit. The height at which the switch is installed can also be altered to match personal needs or preferences, at any time, even years later.

Many will find it practical to have an extra handheld transmitter for their dining room or lounge table. For those that like to raise the shutters in the morning straight from their bed, all that is necessary is to ‘teach’ a further transmitter into the wireless receiver by pressing a button, and then attach it to the wall or a bedside table. This kind of simplification is obviously extremely convenient for people who are bedridden or care-dependent. All it takes to turn the main light of a room on and off from bed, for example, is a wireless receiver for the lamp and a transmitter on the wall. Self-powered room thermostats can also be positioned at the bedside.

A step-by-step solution

There is technology available today that can be matched to needs as they arise and gradually expanded. For example, if someone becomes seriously disabled they could have a window that can be operated wirelessly and electrically when they want fresh air. At the same time a batteryless window contact could automatically close the electric thermostat so that heating energy is not blown out of the open window.

If someone with early symptoms of dementia becomes unable to operate a light switch, a motion detector installed next to their bed could automatically turn on a light as soon as they get out of bed. Lights could automatically be switched on during the nighttime in other rooms by means of presence detectors, or the heating reduced in a dwelling when people leave it. Also, for safety’s sake, a cooker or electric iron could be deactivated.

Combining modern technology with an intelligent home automation system produces even more convenience. Wireless emergency buttons by the washbowl or shower in the bathroom or at the bedside could enable an automatic hands-free telephone link to the mobile phone of a close family member and, if required, this person could activate a room camera via iPhone to check the status of the emergency. Additionally, residents of a care home could be safeguarded against health risks by automatically signaling to a control centre that a particular window had been open for a long time.

Mattress with integrated wireless presence sensor

Presence detectors can also improve medical care in assisted living facilities. If no movement is registered in the bedroom of one of the residents in the morning, the nursing staff would be alerted to visit their room for a checkup. This is the underlying thought behind the recently introduced wireless bed with an integrated mattress sensor that automatically indicates to the personnel on duty in the office of a care home if someone gets up during the night or stays in bed too long in the morning. Combined with extra controls the wireless mattress can also offer excellent service in a modern household or a senior citizen’s dwelling. After a person has been in bed for a period of time, certain electrical appliances in the household can be switched off, a night light switched on, and the temperature automatically reduced for healthy sleep.

Virtually limitless application

The opportunities for energy harvesting wireless technology are boundless. In France, for example, staircase lifts operated by wireless switches have been installed in existing buildings because their batteryless capability means no chasing of walls or cumbersome wiring is required. The service-free nature of this technology also means there is no concern about stairlift power failure while in use.

Intelligent solutions are conceivable for the future, that allow the elderly and dementia suffers to remain in their own familiar surroundings for much longer. At a UK company, for instance, work is in progress on a solution with room presence detectors, refrigerator door sensors and an appropriate movement profile to actively encourage dementia patients to feed themselves or take their medicine.

The diverse application possibilities presented by batteryless sensors will see them enter many households in the future to make a valuable contribution to personal independence and better quality of life. An increasing number of property owners are becoming more receptive to investing in this innovative wireless technology – whether for use in their own property or rented properties. For large housing enterprises, this represents an opportunity to help prolong the residence of existing rental customers, minimise gaps between tenancies and maximise rental income.