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VOL. 127 | NO. 57 | Thursday, March 22, 2012

Digital Age

Tech-savvy seniors manage homes, health

By JONATHAN DEVIN

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User-friendly digital technology isn’t just for kids anymore. Smartphone-based home-monitoring systems are making seniors one of the largest market segments for home security companies.

Lemuel Russell displays the view of one of the closed-circuit cameras in his home that he accesses via his iPhone. The image is of Russell standing in his den. 

(Photo: Dennis Copeland)

“I think seniors are warming up to technology, especially technology that connects them to loved ones,” said Jonathan Frase, president and owner of Memphis-based Frase Protection. “Nearly all the people I know who use Skype, for example, are grandparents.”

Wireless home-security systems open the connection, he said, by giving seniors more control over their homes and by allowing family members that same level of access.

Rather than just sounding an alarm when an intruder enters the house, many digital systems can be programmed to allow users to open door locks, adjust thermostats and view digital video feeds, all through a smartphone app.

“My daughter would leave the air or the heat on and I was able to check the thermostat and make adjustments on the move,” said Lemuel Russell, a 56-year-old customer of Vivint, which offers home-security services across North America. “I like the idea of looking at my log and I can see every time the doors opened.”

Once while out of town, Russell turned on his home video feed and found the housesitter watching TV on the couch.

“It was the home management aspect that I like,” Russell said. “I can access things on my phone or on a computer.”

Frase said these days it’s not even necessary to give a spare key or entry code to the neighbors. If someone needs to enter the house, he can call the owner and be let in remotely.

Vivint has 11,794 customers in Tennessee, of which 4,900 are older than 55. Nationally, 254,363 of the company’s 573,615 customers are older than 55. With 44 percent of its customers older than 55, Vivint – and others – took notice.

“I read a recent AARP report that said that right now over 7,000 people are turning 65 every day,” Frase said. “People are living longer, and a growing number of seniors prefer to age in their homes, living independently as long as possible.”

Medical alert pendants have been on the market for more than 20 years but are still popular.

Lemuel Russell shows all he controls in his home via his iPhone.

(Photo: Dennis Copeland)

“The pendant is our No. 1 seller,” said Bryan Wilkinson, manager/service installer for Vivint in Memphis, referring to a medical alert pendant that can be worn at home. “Sometimes people worry about accidentally pushing it, but some have actually called me and thanked me for selling them the pendant because it saved their lives.”

Family members can receive alerts when the pendant is pushed, as well.

The system’s appeal is also economic, said Dr. Phil Wiygul, whose parents both lived at home until their deaths in their late 80s – in part, he said, because of their Frase security system. The cost of the system plus hired attendants turned out to be significantly less than putting his parents in a nursing home.

Wiygul checked the system remotely every night before going to bed.

“As their health declined, they were not able to check the alarm every time,” Wiygul said. “By giving me the responsibility, I was able to make it so they could stay in their home and be safe. That was a key factor in what they considered about staying at home instead of going to a nursing home.”

“Even basic home-security systems can be programmed so that if the system doesn’t detect any motion in the house for a 24-hour period, that will trigger an alert,” Frase said. “Some people go so far as to have a webcam that can be viewed from a smartphone and they can check in that mom and dad are OK.”

Frase customer Judy Denman, 72, said that the non-mixing of seniors and technology is mostly a myth now anyway.

“I think when you do get older and you’re not used to doing certain things, of course you’re a bit afraid of it,” Denman said. “Having a computer and a cellphone, once you learn it’s really not that hard, you just have to readjust your thinking a little bit.

“I think more and more people that are my age have the new iPads and the newest cellphones. They play games. They do it all. I don’t think it’s really age-related anymore.”

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