Smart solutions for greater security and convenience for seniors in the smart home26. July 2022 Published by Jana Greyling
Germany currently has the second-oldest population in the world, with 21% (or around 17.5 million citizens) aged 65 and above. About 6.2 million of those over 65 are single, including about 5.8 million who live alone, according to the Federal Statistical Office. An aging society means the total number of senior households has increased significantly.
The majority of older people aged 65 and over in Germany live either in a partnership or – what is particularly true for the very elderly above the age of 85 – alone, in other words, without anyone else in their household. In contrast, other forms of cohabitation, for example with their children or with other relatives or friends, are very rare and in 2020 applied to just 4% of older people.
Wish and reality
Most elderly people want to lead an independent, self-determined life in their own four walls for as long as possible. So it’s not surprising that the vast majority of older people remain in their own households, even at a ripe old age. Last year, only about 4% of those over 65 lived in a nursing or retirement home or similar shared accommodation. Even among the 85-plus age group, less than one-fifth (18%) lived in such a facility.
Seniors: No money, no space
However, where seniors live in old age often depends on their state of health and their financial means. Anyone who has built a home for themselves over years or decades doesn’t plan to move again, especially when they get old. Seniors often have an old tenancy agreement that has run for 40 years and under which the rent is far cheaper compared to the cost of a place in a retirement home. According to statistics from the German pension insurance fund Deutsche Rentenversicherung, male pensioners received an average of €1,179 in 2021 if they lived in one of the old federal states. In the new federal states of the former East Germany, however, the average pension was €1,249 per month. More than one-in-five people over the age of 80 (22.4 percent) in Germany is affected by poverty. That was the finding of the study “Old Age in Germany” (D80+) funded by the Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Senior Citizens, Women and Youth. Among very elderly women, the ratio is even more than nine percentage points higher than among men. Few can afford the cost of staying in retirement and nursing homes. Another factor plays a major role in the desire of the 65-plus generation to be able to lead a self-determined life in their own four walls: in 2040, more than 20 percent of Germans will be 67 years of age or above. It is impossible to provide the staff and care needed to look after them in nursing homes. That is why the government is providing support for people to remain in their own home and be looked after there.
The long road to the smart home
Yet not every home is suitable for care-free, age-friendly living. Just 1.5 percent of housing in Germany is age-appropriate. According to a study by the Institute for Housing and Environment (IWU) commissioned by the Reconstruction Loan Corporation (KfW), there will even be a shortage of around two million age-appropriate homes by 2035. KfW’s evaluation study found that of the 37 million apartments and single-family homes in Germany, only 560,000 are designed to be barrier-free. That is just 1.5 percent – a shockingly low figure, considering that 90 percent of the citizens surveyed in the “Care 2020” study said they wanted to stay in their own four walls for as long as possible.
“Smart home systems can ensure that seniors can lead a self-determined life in their own four walls for longer, so they don’t have to move into nursing homes until later or, ideally, at all. This avoids a situation where people have to move out of their familiar surroundings and the great stress and strain that often entails. After all, the importance of our own four walls increases further in old age, which is why it is desirable for many older people to be able to remain in their familiar surroundings for as long as possible. Even when the first health problems arise and the need for assistance increases,” writes Bitkom in the study “Digital solutions for living in old age. Self-determined, healthy and secure.
It is also necessary to differentiate between seniors who are independent and active and who consciously decide in favor of a smart home solution because they want security, service and convenience at home and already have a certain level of technological competence, in other words, they have a smartphone or a tablet. This group doesn’t see the digital home as a bugbear and is extremely receptive to it.
The preferred solutions used by the 65+ target group mainly include, in addition to the perennial favorite of lighting, intelligent security cameras for video surveillance of the house, garden or apartment. Security is generally a major priority for this generation, and 21 percent of respondents already use smart alarm systems. Integrating smart home security is a relatively easy way of supporting elderly people who wish to lead an independent life. Apart from alerting older adults to burglaries and criminal activity, smart home security can prove useful by warning that a door or window has been left open, that there is a leak in the basement, or that something has been left on the stove. It’s a simple addition to the household in terms of setting it up and its day-to-day use, but it’s an important one because seniors and their adult children can have peace of mind knowing they’ll be looked after by security experts in the event of an emergency.
Energy costs and smart thermostats
Energy costs keep on rising, and so not only is electricity becoming more expensive, but heating is also burning a big hole in many consumers’ pockets. Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine and the resultant gas and oil embargo by the EU are unsettling people, and so demand for smart thermostats is also on the increase. Programmable thermostats can be used to set different temperatures for different times of the day. Smart temperature regulation saves considerable heating energy. The temperature can be significantly reduced at night and while you’re out at work during the day, and yet the home is warm and cozy when you get out of bed or return. Individual heating profiles deliver a lot of comfort and cut heating costs. The cost of smart thermostats starts at 20 to 30 euros and ranges up to about 150 euros.
It’s sometimes difficult to set the desired temperature, especially in large rooms with several radiators. That’s pretty easy to do with the Gigaset Climate Sensor and you retain full control at all times: The Climate Sensor measures the exact temperature at a central point in the room, as a result of which the room climate can be determined very accurately and controlled in a pinpointed manner. In old apartments in particular, excessive humidity often poses a problem. With the Climate Sensor, heating and ventilation behavior can be adjusted easily and conveniently at any time to prevent damage, such as due to mold formation. The sensor permanently measures the room’s relative humidity and sends recommendations on airing it via the app directly to your smartphone. In combination with the intelligent Gigaset thermostat, you even have a completely smart means of controlling the heating using an app.
Especially for older people, smart home solutions are indispensable when it comes to security, convenience and prevention. Sensor-based orientation lighting can prevent falls, for example when you go to the toilet at night. Water sensors sound an alarm and alert you that the washing machine has broken down and water is running out of it or the bathtub is overflowing. After all, water damage is one of the most common types of damage in houses and apartments: Every 25 seconds, a water pipe bursts in Germany. Rectifying the consequences of water damage properly costs an average of around 2,000 euros.
Electrical appliances in the home can easily catch fire. These include old refrigerators, overloaded multiple sockets or poorly repaired technical devices. Fires are often caused by carelessness and thoughtlessness. Fire departments respond to approximately 200,000 fires each year. Electricity was by far the most common cause of fire in Germany in 2021, accounting for 32% of cases. According to a study, short-circuits and cable fires are the most frequent cause of fires in private households. The smart smoke sensor from Gigaset also warns you if there is an electrical defect, the coffee machine or toaster overheats or sockets produce sparks. There’s also a great risk of fire from candles and fireplaces – but the smart smoke sensor also sounds the alarm here, if need be. The Gigaset Smoke Sensor reliably alerts you when a fire causes smoke in your home. And, incidentally, also if you’re not at home or in the room in question. The Gigaset elements app notifies you when smoke is generated and about which room is affected. That’s also a help if you’ve been a little careless and, for example, not unplugged the iron or left a kitchen towel too close to the stove top.
Digital solutions for living in old age are mature and enable you to lead self-determined life longer. The latest ↗Report on the Elderly from the German Government also believes that smart living has the potential to allow the elderly to stay in their own home longer.