SPMS: Your Ultimate Smart Home

by Rachel Zohn Health Writer

The world of technology is booming with products that help people with conditions like secondary progressive multiple sclerosis (SPMS) do more of their day-to-day things sans restrictions. Those in the know call it assistive technology (AT), and it includes any tool or device that improves your ability to function and decreases limitations. Now, all this smart technology is being adapted to help those with SPMS (and other conditions that affect mobility) to create "smart homes" equipped with appliances or systems that remote-control certain tasks. If you're living with SPMS, here's how to tweak some of the best tech to make it work for your home.

Step 1: Think Small

If you're unable to turn on the lights, easily answer the door or change the temperature in your home, a portable smart device (cell phone, watch, tablet) can make a world of difference. Smart tech means that these devices can be used to connect, share, and interact with other smart devices through the internet, Bluetooth, or phone lines. For instance, you can use apps on your smart phone to connect and control other smart devices such as a thermostat, door lock, or light bulb, says Kathy Zackowski, Ph.D., an occupational therapist and scientist who serves as senior director of Patient Management, Care and Rehabilitation Research for the National MS Society.

Google Home Mini
Courtesy of vendor

Step 2: Establish a Command Center

If you want to control all your smart-home tech, like your lights, home temps and alarms, from a single interface instead of using individual apps for each device, you'll need to get a piece of gear that brings them all together. There are a number of voice-controlled devices that allow you to integrate home automation with apps to connect, trigger, or control compatible devices, says Marisol Ferrante, assistive technology educator for Independent Living Resource Center San Francisco.

Try: Google Home Mini (which uses Google Assistant), $49; Amazon Echo Dot (which uses Alexa virtual assistant), $50; or Apple HomeKit (which uses Siri virtual assistant), $74

Samsung Smart Things Hub
Courtesy of vendor

Step 3: Hook Up a Hub

If you're creating the ultimate smart home, get a dedicated hub, which gives you more flexibility in merging different tech from multiple manufactures, Ferrante explains. Hubs aren’t vastly different from home devices like Alexa–they all work on voice commands. But hubs are meant to bring a variety of devices from multiple manufacturers together (don't worry, there are instructions included with each device on setting this all up), whereas Alexa and the like work only with compatible devices. This can add up quickly, so keep your budget in mind. Bonus: Each state offers different programs, such as financial grants and device-loaner programs to help cover the cost.

Try: Samsung SmartThings Hub, $65

Ring Video Doorbell Pro
Courtesy of vendor

Step 4: Install a Smart Doorbell

A smart doorbell can be a big help to someone with SPMS because it allows you to see who's at your door, even if you have limited mobility, explains Zackowski. A smart doorbell features live video streaming and an intercom system that you can access through an app on your phone or tablet so you can see and talk to whoever is there. This can be helpful in providing a sense of security if you have difficulty moving quickly to answer the door or need to stand to see through a peep hole, explains Zackowski.

Try: Ring Video Doorbell Pro, $100

August Smart Lock Pro + Connect
Courtesy of vendor

Step 5: Lock Up

Another device that increases your security is a smart door lock. If you have limited hand dexterity or strength, it may be difficult to maneuver a key to unlock your door. Some people may worry about people being able to gain access if they need assistance, Zackowski says, but most smart door locks will let you grant “digit keys” to friends, family, or helpers who need to get into your home at specific times or days. Some locks can be activated using voice codes and commands like, "Open sesame!"

Try: August Smart Lock Pro + Connect, $280

Honeywell Wi-Fi 7-Day Programmable Thermostat
Courtesy of vendor

Step 6: Control the Temp Without a Fuss

People with MS can be sensitive to heat, with warmer temperatures sometimes causing symptoms to quickly worsen. A smart thermostat allows you to control your home’s temp using an app, and it can be helpful in maintaining a consistent air temperature overall, Zackowski notes. "It can be hard to walk up to the thermostats to change the temperature by a degree or two and frustrating not to be able to do that," Zackowski adds.

Try: Honeywell Wi-Fi 7-Day Programmable Thermostat, $100

Philips Hue Premium Smart Bulb
Courtesy of vendor

Step 7: Remote-control Your Lights

Who remembers "Clap on! Clap off! The Clapper!" Inspired by the old school tech, smart lighting can give you access to any light fixture, allowing you to turn it off or on with a voice command or tapping an app on your cell phone screen. The palms of your hands will thank you.

Try: Philips Hue Premium Smart Bulb, $100

WeMo Insight Smart Plug
Courtesy of Belkin International

Step 8: Swap Out Your Plugs

A smart plug allows you to remotely turn on or off appliances or products that are plugged into it, Ferrante explains. You can control the appliance, such as a fan or a light, through the smart plug by using your cell phone or voice commands, she notes.

Try: WeMo Insight Smart Plug, $40

Nest Protect Wired Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector
Courtesy of vendor

Step 9: Give Your Smoke Alarm a Makeover

If your SPMS symptoms make it difficult or impossible to reach your smoke or carbon monoxide alarms, you may be tempted to disable them. But using alarms with smart technology gives you control by allowing you to silence false alarms using your smart phone. You can also run tests and check that the system is working properly. One study found that smart technology is better at differentiating between a false alarm and a real fire. And smart alarms use voice alerts to tell you exactly where the problem is, such as "Danger, smoke detected in the kitchen."

Try: Nest Protect Wired Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Detector, $119

Courtesy of vendor

Step 10: Motorize Curtains and Blinds

Even a task such as opening window blinds or curtains can be difficult for someone with SPMS. Smart window coverings can be controlled with an app or a remote control, but you may need to invest some time in deciding on the right option for you. There are some made-to-measure options that can be pricey, or you can use a motor kit to automate your existing traditional window covering. Some options include motorized curtain tracks or automation kits for your blinds. Many kits are compatible with voice assistants like Alexa, allowing you to use voice commands.

Try: MySmartBlinds, $159

Rachel Zohn
Meet Our Writer
Rachel Zohn

Rachel Zohn is a mom, a wife, and a freelance writer who is striving to find the best way to juggle it all and maintain a sense of humor. She is a former newspaper reporter with a deep interest in writing about all things related to health, wellness and the human body. She enjoys writing about various health topics, including skin conditions such as eczema, different types of cancer and seasonal allergies.