February has been difficult. My partner has been working abroad for a month.
I’m grateful to have friends and relations prepared to stay over and help out, especially as most days I haven’t been able to get around my own house. I can’t open the front door, or let the dog out, or get things from the freezer.
My quality of life has been recently improved by innovations to turn our Edwardian mid-terrace into a Smart Home though. Perhaps my learning will help improve your chronic illness quality of life too?
This post contains links to products but apart from a discount link for Tado, which I also benefit from, I haven’t benefited financially from writing this (no payments or free products). I am open to giving honest reviews of Smart Home products if anyone wants to send me one though…
My friend Alexa
I had an Occupational Therapist home assessment in the autumn. She mentioned that Amazon Alexa can be useful if you have a paralysis episode and can’t use a phone. She knew someone who used it to phone using just their voice. At Christmas time we bought two Echo dots in the sale (the physical gadget that contains the voice of Alexa). The OT was right, you can phone other people using just your voice if they have the Alexa app on their phone and WiFi connection (so this is also a free way to make calls). I can answer just with my voice.
This is very useful as it gives both of us peace of mind. Of course it is only the beginning of the potential for a Smart Home to improve a spoonie’s life.
I’ve basically outsourced my memory to Alexa (and google calendar which Alexa can read, and Slack for work, but that’s entirely separate). Alexa reminds me to feed the dog by asking our dog if she’s hungry. Amusingly our mini schnauzer now often trots off towards the Echo Dot, before remembering that I’m the one who has the food. You can get smart devices to feed dogs, but that would really reveal the nature of cupboard love, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that.
With non-smart memory techniques the brainfog fatal flaw is you have to remember to remember. You have to think to check a list or calendar. Alexa gives reminders orally (aurally?) and in writing on your device. So despite my partner being further flung than the Hindu Kush, the dog is fed, we’ve both had our medicine, the houseplants are watered and the correct bins went out on the correct day (even though our neighbours got this wrong).
We get food delivered through Ocado. When we run out of something I say “Alexa, ask Ocado to add ground almonds” and she’ll add them to the Ocado trolley. More dangerously, we have Dominoes set up and Alexa can order gluten free, vegetarian pizza without me having to go anywhere or even glance at a screen or have payment details to hand (the obstacle is I do need to answer the door, though there are potential smart solutions for that too).
Alexa can be entertaining which is light relief if you’re too ill to do anything. She does seem to have some personality, (programmed) sense of humour and a weird preoccupation with Easter eggs. She can play music and radio programmes. She has opinions (?) on what the dog is thinking about.
Tado or not to do?
Another problem I have is I often can’t get to the boiler to change the heating. If I’m too cold or too hot I’m stuck that way. We decided to get smart heating controls from Tado which even have smart thermostats for specific radiators, as well as a general smart thermostat. This is ideal for my Spoonie lifestyle as I’m often in by myself, so it’s too wasteful to heat the whole house all day, but I’m in the different rooms at unpredictable times and don’t experience temperature in a predictable way.
In my adult life I’ve never even had a normal thermostat so this was a big technological advance!
We did have a headache getting the radiator thermostats fitted, and almost returned them, but it was worth persevering.
Ideas to Conserve Spoons
Although it’s good for POTS to stand regularly, it is also very good to not have to stand very often on bad days. Until our smart revolution the only workaround I’d found for this was teaching our dog to shut the sitting room door. I also started to teach her to turn the lamp on and off but my training skills weren’t quite up to that. We now have a smart plug for that lamp. It turns on at sunset and off just after 10pm. If I’m not downstairs, I have a downstairs smart home group and can turn off everything from upstairs. Remembering to do this is a slight problem, and room sensors which detect a human presence might be a good addition at some point.
We’ve replaced our broken kettle with a smart one. This means making a cup of tea involves standing up once rather than twice. You can also hint that you want a drink by turning it on from upstairs 😉 If you’re out it can turn on when you get close to home. There are lots of clever ‘recipes’ like this we’ve yet to explore.
Light: I’m holding off getting smart bulbs because my brother-in-law may have some going spare. I do have one Bluetooth controlled bulb in our bedroom but that’s a little fiddly compared with WiFi. When we decorate our bedroom I’d like to add an Alexa compatible curtain rail motor so I can control the amount of natural light easily. I’ve heard of people with ME getting this adaptation through their OT but this sounds mythical to me.
Dog door: I don’t think we’ll get a proper WiFi dog door but if we get one that senses her microchip she can let herself in and out to go to the toilet (or bark at cats).
Room sensors: it seems like a good idea to have room sensors turn lights and heating off if no one is in a room. This bypasses the need to remember to turn things off.
Security: I’m very unsure about this but there are smart locks for your front door. This would enable me to let people in who don’t have a key.
Conclusion: today is tomorrow
On my blog site I’ve had a rule of thumb to only suggest free or very cheap resources. This post obviously breaks that rule. Smart Home costs quickly mount up. The Echo Dot to get Alexa was definitely worth it for my needs (£35 each). The smart plug was substantially reduced as a Black Friday bundle with the Echo Dot (£9.99). Tado was a noticeable chunk of money (hundreds) but there’s the expectation that it reduces your heating bills, so you get the money back in time. There’s also a (cheaper in the short term) rental scheme from £7/mth and if you buy or rent, use this discount link: you’ll get £10 off and I’ll get £10 too.
It is my opinion that this technology is a significant enough advance for people with chronic illness disability that I didn’t want to keep what I’ve learnt about this to myself, despite the costs. Anyway, the price of technology often falls exponentially (or you get more for your money, depending on your shopping philosophy). It is worth keeping track of what is affordable.
Did you watch Tomorrow’s World as a child? They definitely expected us to live in sleek, smart homes by now. It was seeming like that type of tomorrow would never arrive. Now tomorrow is today, just with messy wiring and period features.
If you liked this read:
The one about Spoonie Utopia
The one about capturing the essence
The one with tips on what to buy for a comfy convalescence