This is commonly the first thing most new users looking to “smarten their homes” look to automate and if you don’t do your homework, it can be a painful experience. Plus there are tons of benefits with automated lighting based on presence, schedules, time of day, and moods. If someone lives alone, you will guarantee they won’t live in the dark and that is definitely more enjoyable.

Let me detail the steps to get this done (hopefully) right the first time. Bear in mind am no electrician and should you feel uncomfortable messing with this, hire an electrician, better safe than sorry. Shocking ,no?

Fair warning: Alzheimer’s patients have very limited capacities to learn new things and adapt to change if at all. So if you disrupt their expectations and daily habits you may cause new problems.

Now that this is out of the way, let’s talk lights! I’m in Canada, please adapt to your region.

  1. Figure our how the house light switches are wired: close the breaker, remove the cover of a light switch then the lights witch itself to see what wiring you have in place. No need to disconnect anything we’re just gathering information. There are two common scenarios:
    • 2/3-wire setup: black, white and ground wires, very common especially in North America set up this way:
    • Neutral setup: you have one or two extra wires including a neutral which carries power on top of the black one. In other words it’s a pair of “hot” wires (do not touch with your tongue, please). In North America it should be a white wire but I found all sorts of colors in walls over the years due to electricians “reusing and not wasting”. In the image below the neutral wires are on the right side with a yellow wire nut.
  2. The impact of a neutral wire or lack of one is simple: it will chose for you which switches and dimmers you can or cannot use. Most Z-Wave and ZigBee dimmers require a neutr1al to keep an active load to control the device when the lights are turned off. When I tried my first dimmer, it failed to work because I did not read up beforehand and the house did not have neutral wires for light switches so don’t be like me. Here is a good article explaining the neutral wire in much more detail in regards to home automation should you wish to know more.
  3. Now let’s chose what to use:
    • No neutral: the easy way out is Lutron Caseta and that’s what I personally use (bridge required). There are some options out there coming to market but have no experience with them so check online forums to get user feedback. Some are Wi-Fi, ZigBee or Z-Wave, Inovelli and GE have some options, Leviton has entered the market for no-neutral switches (bridge required) and I’m sure there are others out there and more are most likely coming.
    • Neutral: the world’s your oyster! You can use anything you can find out there, even the Lutron Caseta products.
  4. Which smart home technology?
    1. Bulbs or dimmers or both? This is a popular topic, and the answer is never both. If you do both you need to control the same part of the house with two systems making it 1) more expensive and 2) more complicated and 3) will cause problems in your setup. If you use smart bulbs in the TV room and smart dimmers in the rest of the house that works, just don’t put both on the same lighting stuff. We want to make things simpler, not more complicated after all. Keep on reading more on this below.
    2. It does not matter that much as the devices are wired for power and don’t use batteries. Use what you like cosmetically, some techie switches and dimmers are not always very “pretty”.
    3. Z-Wave & ZigBee: make sure your hub supports at least one of these two otherwise you’re in a dead end. ZigBee is the safe bet as it’s supported on about every hub out there.
    4. Wi-Fi: most likely any smart home hub will use these but the more devices your add to your Wi-Fi router the higher the odds that it will slow down due to having a heavy workload.
    5. Most importantly, before buying anything, check with your hub’s manufacturer what they support and don’t try stuff if it’s not supported. Safer is better with the Alzheimer’s audience so don’t tempt fate by saying “heh it’ll work am sure”.
    6. Don’t want to change the dimmers? You’re in luck as some devices play “middleman”, are hidden and have the option of not needing a neutral wire. Take a look at the Aeotec Nano Dimmer which is a good example, could prove to be interesting, it’s on my “to try” list personally.
    7. Last but not least, for simplicity’s sake, use only one make/model to make sure you don’t complexify things needlessly and is compatible with your hub.
  5. Let’s look at “plugin” lamps:
  6. What about smart bulbs? And smart light strips?
    • Light switches and dimmers are items we all know how to use and individuals affected by Alzheimer’s are not in a position to learn new things and if you want to do funky things with the bulbs, it’s the wrong audience.
    • You can replace conventional dimmers and switches with “purpose-built smart ones made for bulbs and strips” for a specific brand of bulbs or strips like the LIFX switches
    • If you insist on going with colors, patterns and routines, just make do make sure you do your homework with your audience. Maybe the benefits will not outweigh the costs on this one and you will cause more issues than anything else.
    • The usual suspects in this space are Philips HueLIFXGovee
    • Last, lighting panels are an interesting option as well, Nanoleaf is the most known brand right now. Like strips and bulbs, use at your own risk with Alzheimer’s patients.
  7. Window dressings: you can add devices to open/close blinds, shutters and more. Next is to tie them to routines and you’re creating a living space where sunlight will no longer be a problem based on time of day and open/close them with a dusk/dawn schedule. Here is an article discussing this topic.
  8. Last but not least: notifications. Sometimes it can be better to create a rule to change the lights say from “white” to “blue” when a schedule activity needs to happen like taking medication. I’ll let you get creative here, and why not pair this with a voice assistance to turn off the alert?
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