When I get older

The world is changing – and it’s not all just about global warming and economic meltdown. Major shifts in population and demographics are having a significant impact on the way we live our lives and according to Richard Hayward of Legrand these changes are shaping the future of wiring devices.

Recent figures place the world’s population at 6.93 billion, and predictions point to it reaching 10 billion by 2050. At the same time the average age is soaring, with a 42% increase expected in the number of over 65s in Europe by 2030, and a 98% increase expected in those aged 80 or over.

One of the most interesting aspects of this change is that the number of elderly people opting to live independently for longer is increasing dramatically, even when their self sufficiency declines.

So how does an ageing and more independently minded population impact on wiring device manufacturers like ourselves?

The answer is simple. In order for people to remain independent for longer they need to be able to rely more on their surroundings for assistance and as a result, a whole new product area has come to the fore – assisted living solutions.

These cover a wide range of areas including helping elderly people, and those with chronic conditions, live active, independent and dignified lives with maximum personal control. They also help to minimise the exacerbation of chronic conditions and consequent effects and extend the ability for an individual to participate in work, leisure and community activities.

Of course, wiring devices can’t help in every area, but their role is vital in the development and implementation of certain assisted living solutions.

Accident prevention

More than 60% of accidents occur at home and falls account for over 10,000 deaths amongst the over 65s every year. The reasons for these accidents vary greatly, but in many cases the use of assisted living technology could prevent them on the basis that products and systems are developed specifically to operate where things are most likely to go wrong.

Most notably, the systems are designed to help compensate for developing motor, cognitive and sensory deficiencies and at present the most common solutions are those that provide light when and where it’s needed and  those that detect and react to hazardous situations.

Take for example the provision of lighting in potentially hazardous areas. There are two ways in which this tends to be approached, the creation of light paths and the incorporation of motion detectors that automatically activate lighting in key areas.

Light paths are generally installed in hallways and on staircases and utilise pilot light switches and indicators that light up as they are approached, meaning the floor space and any obstacles are illuminated and more easily navigated. Meanwhile, lighting activated by motion detection switches provides a similar service, but is generally used to immediately illuminate entire rooms.

Elsewhere, the hazard detection products that the majority of us are familiar with (gas, smoke and flood detectors that generate an alarm when activated) are being phased out and replaced with technology intended to limit the impact of such incidents. For example, once a water leak has been detected by the assisted living system a solenoid valve would simply activate and cut the water off, thus lessening the extent of the damage and level of danger.

Home comforts

Assisted living solutions aren’t simply about accident prevention, they seek to compensate individuals for a decline in self-sufficiency by taking care of easy day-to-day tasks, which are likely to get harder the older a person gets.

From a home control point of view, lighting systems can be automated to deliver light at the right level when and where it’s needed, while also switching off lights in rooms and areas where nobody is present.

Similarly, central heating systems can be split into different zones so that they warm the areas needed as and when required and can even be programmed to trigger alarms, both internal and external, if unusual temperature variations are detected.

Meanwhile, door entry systems can be used to deliver safety and peace of mind for the elderly in their homes. Not only do they enable them to find out who is calling prior to opening the door, they can be operated remotely, meaning the resident doesn’t necessarily have to come to the door, and can be programmed to be opened by a visiting party in case of emergency.

When looked at from this angle, the scope for assistance is virtually limitless, from automated blinds and shutters, right through to the use of smart kitchen appliances, which are set to routinely self-test, self-diagnose and call a technician when required.

Progressive thinking

One key point needs to be taken into account when planning assisted living solutions and that is they need to be adaptable in order to compensate for the on-going decline in self-sufficiency.

What this means is that there needs to be a progression for the installation of different elements. To deliver this we break our approach down into three steps – namely comfort functions, safety and the introduction of living scenarios. At the same time we seek to manage communications coming from within homes by centralising information on various statistics, including temperature, movements, leaks and even intrusion. This data can then be transmitted to designated partners who can then choose to provide remote care or direct intervention.

The wiring device

As with its role in the development of smart home technology, the wiring device will once again be vital in delivering assisted living solutions.

And while this means change, it won’t be of the sweeping variety. Instead, the type of controls will alter to reflect the increased requirement for intelligent switches that are able to send signals to remote control devices across the circuit. The appearance of controls will also change in order to make them easier to operate. For example, we are continually reviewing and aiming to simplify grip and operational features for our various switches and sockets in order to provide everyone with solutions suitable to their needs.

As a result, the building industry will need to modify the way systems are planned and installed, but manufacturers are focusing on ensuring the most significant changes are positive. Key to this is that assisted living components are being designed to require a lot less specialist knowledge than many would imagine. In fact, the majority of devices feature self-diagnostic tools and, in many cases, self-installation processes. In addition, much of the programming is delivered through a combination of plug and play and simple ‘learn’ facilities.

Furthermore, all products and solutions have been developed so that they can be upgraded quickly and easily in order to account for changes in an individual’s condition or needs – meaning the job of transforming a simple, stand-alone system into one with incoming and outgoing communications will not be the stuff of nightmares.

What this means in practice is that contractors, installers and specifiers need to embrace the technology now. And that means planning for it in all new projects, by installing the necessary control and cabling so that as and when a property needs to be upgraded it can be done easily and with minimum disruption.

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