Help creating night time monitoring of Alzheimer's patient


(Dave McCaughan) #1

I would like to set up a system to monitor a family member with Alzheimer’s at night, and allow him to use the bathroom with minimal disruption to the rest of the house. I have no experience with any home automation or programing so I am hoping I can get some help setting this up.
This is my situation:
His bed is within line of sight of the bathroom. I would like a pressure pad by his bedside to activate a wifi LED bulb in a recessed ceiling fixture to gently illuminate the bathroom and simultaneously notify an iOS device of activity. It would be nice if that iPad also brought up a video of the room and allowed two way voice communication. (sometimes all that is needed is a gentle prompting)
I would like to easily “reset” the system once he goes back to bed.
So my shopping list looks like this so far:
Smartthings hub
Wifi bulb
Pad like this:
SmartThings Multipurpose Sensor to wire the pad to
SmartCam Pro

Does this seem feasible? Any major pitfalls that I should worry about?
Your insight and suggestions would be most appreciated.


I am so torn on this I almost didn’t answer (my grandmother had Alzheimer’s), but I feel I should at least say a little something.

First, I admire your courage in finding practical helpful solutions that will work for both of you. There is a lot more stuff available now then used to be in the past, and you should be able to find things which do help a lot.

Second, I think your basic idea is really good, and I think you can probably even simplify it further. More about that in a minute.

Third, I would consider upfront how reliable you need this to be. I myself and quadriparetic, use a wheelchair with Limited hand function. When SmartThings works well it is absolutely my favorite home automation system. But since last November I have yet to go nine days without an impactful failure. It’s just not reliable yet. The company is very aware of this, and even their CEO has committed publicly to improving this aspect of their system. I do believe that they are sincere in that, but they just aren’t there yet.


This may not be an issue for your family, but I know with my grandmother routine was very important to her. If she had had something where the light was supposed to come on and then it didn’t come on we would’ve been dealing with the repercussions of that for days. If reliability is an issue for you, I think you would be better off solving this problem without putting SmartThings into the picture at the present time. ( if you search the forums for “reliability” you will find much discussion on the topic. )

So since you asked about “major pitfalls” I think the reliability of SmartThings has to be put into that category at the present time. The following was posted to the forums by the company CEO in April, and there have been at least two significant problems since then (one this week).


The second possible pitfall is complexity. There is a very sophisticated community-created rules engine in beta now called core. I’m sure it could be designed to do all kinds of things that fit your use case. But I’m going to recommend that you not go that way at the present time for the same reason. If I were in your situation I would put reliability at the top of my list. I would look for the simplest possible solution.

You may feel very differently, and it may be that your relative’s cognitive issues are such that reliability isn’t that big a deal. He might not even remember that it hadn’t worked the day before. Alzheimer’s is a very individual condition. But I just wanted to mention this so that you can take into account. I think core is a great piece of software, but it can’t be any more reliable than the SmartThings platform overall. And the fact that is still in beta adds a little more unreliability to the picture. So I really like it, and if you were an IT professional who enjoys tinkering and was willing to put up with occasional failures I would encourage you to use it. But it doesn’t sound like that’s your situation.

a possible alternative

My suggestion instead would be that you get a Phillips hue bridge with a few of their $15 “Hue white” bulbs. (By the way, this is zigbee, not Wi-Fi, but while there’s a technical difference you won’t really notice it in this set up.) this is very reliable equipment, very consumer friendly. If you think a color changing Bulb would be of help so that you could change it, say, from Orange to blue for different purposes, then you can go with one of the more expensive RGBW bulbs. But I would think the hue white would be enough.

Next, instead of trying to use a pressure mat I would just get a good quality camera with a built-in motion sensor and a built-in two way intercom that also “has an IFTTT channel.” There are several of these.

IFTTT is a free service that let you set up “recipes” so that an event on one device can trigger an event on another device. In this case, you would have motion detected on the camera trigger the lighting scene to come on on the bulbs.

If you haven’t used IFTTT before, there’s a good tutorial online. But it’s a very simple service and again, very reliable.

Now you just have to control the field of the motion sensor part of the camera so that it only detects in the range that you wanted to detect. You might put a tube on it to narrow the field, you might use tape, there are several options. But you just have to position it in a place and a way that you catch motion exactly when you want to. And where the voice coming from the camera will not be frightening to your relative. (I mention that because sometimes people put a motion sensor for this purpose underneath the bed, but I think that might be too confusing to someone with Alzheimer’s. I would look instead at putting a camera on the nightstand but maybe pointing mostly towards the wall. You’ll just have to experiment with how you want this all to work. )

If this had been available when my grandmother was still with us, I think I probably would’ve set it up with two cameras one right near the entrance to the bathroom and one right near the bed. But there are a lot of options.

Because the Phillips hue has scenes you can set it up so that when One of the cameras is triggered the light comes on and then goes off again very gradually over five or 10 minutes. You might use that for example if the bathroom camera was triggered to control the bedroom light if that makes sense.

Anyway, you just have to experiment to get the timing and the positioning right. But you would only be relying on two types of very highly rated devices, a particular camera and a Phillips hue bridge. They would be linked together with IFTTT. And I think it would do everything you want.

Several of the available cameras also respond to noise, not just motion, which means if your relative is lying in bed and wants to contact you they just have to speak up. That can be useful also. When you look at the reviews, look to see if people are using the camera as a baby monitor and that might have features that also fit your use case.

Oh, I should also mention that with IFTTT although it isn’t obvious when you first look at it, you can have one event trigger multiple recipes. So you could have the camera sensing motion turn on the Phillips hue lights with one recipe and also notify you with a second recipe. So even though there’s no “and” in an IFTTT recipe you can get the same result by using two recipes triggered from the same “if.”

Anyway, that’s how I would approach it. It would be a very simple system, but I think it would be very reliable for you, and it would still give you some options just because of the versatility of IFTTT.

IFTTT is a cloud service so you do have to have Internet on, but in my experience it has been very reliable and I’ve been using it for almost 2 years now.

There are certainly much more complicated things that you could do and, as I said, maybe reliability isn’t the top priority in your situation. If not you could definitely go with SmartThings and the kind of equipment you mentioned in your first post.

So just some thoughts which may or may not be relevant. Good luck with your project. :sunglasses:

(Dave McCaughan) #3

Thank you very much for your insight and suggestions. You really went above and beyond to explain the reality of how the system works, and sometimes does not. I will now dive into IFTTT. I had come across the concept, but had not considered it as part of my solution. We will try the camera function of alerting when motion is sensed in a specific area of the frame, maybe less is more, as you said. Finding smart people who have tried some of these solutions, and I can learn from, is exactly what I was hoping for.
Thanks again,

(Merlin) #4

As JDR says, reliability can be a bit challenging…

So, you might consider baking-in some sort of redundancy across multiple systems?

Much like JDR explained, I leverage a SmartThings motion sensor (floor level, just under the bed) to notice when the person exists the bed, and respectively turn-on a Hue bulb (and/or whatever else you want to occur.)

Personally, I’ve had “challenges” with camera motion sensors and such, because they are mounted too high (to see the room.) Therefore, they create too many false-alarms (every time the person in bed rolls over, or scratches themselves, or readjusts pillows, etc.) So, I mount most of my motion detectors LOW and somewhat recessed – to reduce false-alarms. Granted, if you have pets, they can trigger these when they walk in/out of the room, too…

Redundancy: In addition to the SmartThings situation, you might consider also deploying a completely WeMo-based system, too. WeMo motion sensor, that triggers a different/second light/bulb/switch/outlet/whatever. WeMo-to-WeMo, all via WiFi – not SmartThings involved.

Thus, under normal situations, TWO lights would come on. But, in a ST-down situation, you would at least have ONE device working?

I find that ST has SOME ability to continue to function in a power-down, or WiFi-down mode (which WeMo doesn’t offer.) e.g. The SmartThings motion sensors are battery-operated, and aren’t leveraging the WiFi network. The v2 hub also has battery-backup. If you leverage a bulb-controller that’s also non-WiFi and has constant power, then this whole thing should work during WiFi-down and power-down situations (whereas, the WeMo wouldn’t work.)

Personally, we wires some of it into our (apartment) building’s emergency/backup electrical system (that’s used for smoke alarms.) If you don’t have some sort of backup/emergency power, then you will either need to leverage some sort of battery-based bulb/system, or implement some sort of UPS for the bulb/controller.

We have some LED bulbs connected to a very-small UPS, and they lasted eight hours with NO PROBLEM!

Good luck!


Not sure if you have any use for table lamps, but target has a good sale right now on some simple lamps that would end up costing about $15 each. I use these with the Hue white bulbs and like them a lot.


I like @merlin 's idea of redundancy a lot. We actually use this in our house for a different reason. We have a few lights in each room that I can operate by voice and then we have wall switches that we haven’t gotten around to including in our home automation set up yet so my housemates also use those.

You may not have any interest in the technical details, but I did just want to clarify one point about how SmartThings works if the Internet is not available.

SmartThings does not use Wi-Fi at all. It uses zigbee to talk to zigbee devices, Z wave to talk to zwave devices, and an ethernet connection to talk to your router.

Most of the time, the schedules and logic to do pretty much anything runs in the SmartThings “cloud” which is on the company servers. So if you have a SmartThings controlled motion sensor and a smart things controlled light switch, when you walk past the motion sensor it sends a message to the hub that you have at your house, that immediately sends a message over the Internet to you’re smart things account in the cloud, that runs the logic to figure out what it supposed to do when that motion sensor goes off, then the cloud send an instruction back to the hub, then the hub sends a message to the light switch.

This is different than, for example, a WeMo sensor with a WeMo switch, where everything just happened locally at your house.

At the present time, the only logic in SmartThings that can run without needing the Internet is the official “smart lighting” feature, and then only for some specific devices. For example even though there is an official Hue/SmartThings integration, it’s still requires talking to your account in the cloud to work. And smart things can’t send any notifications if you can’t reach the SmartThings cloud – – not even push notifications to your phone on the same Wi-Fi network. It’s just the way SmartThings is designed.

So while there are a few things you can set up so SmartThings that can continue to operate without the Internet, there aren’t many.

Of course IFTTT also requires that the Internet be available. (But at the present time the IFTTT cloud is more reliable than the SmartThings cloud.)

Anyway, if you live in an area where the Internet goes down a lot, you should probably look instead for something that runs entirely locally. There are some options. WeMo requires that your local Wi-Fi be running, but doesn’t need the Internet. DLink has similar devices in its home automation line. I’m not sure about notifications from those, though.

All of which is to say I like the idea of having a totally local redundant system. You’re just not likely to get that from smartthings.

(Dave McCaughan) #7

Thank you for all the information and different ideas. Our internet is pretty robust, once every couple years a big storm will knock it out for a day or two, and the odd maintenance short term outage.
The Samsung cameras have this “motion zone detection”. I was thinking that if I place the camera waist high looking straight down the side of the bed (the other side is against a wall), I could just use half the frame and it would only notify when he gets up. Of course I would have to play with how close the zone is to the bed to avoid false alarms. Has anyone here had experience with using this feature?
The two independent systems is probably a good idea. I could use a hardwired pressure pad and small lamp as a simple foolproof backup that would give him light, but no notification for us. It could be on a UPS, I would have to disconnect the alarm that sounds.