Home Automation Brings Dignity, Independence to Residents with ALS

'Smart home' technology provides improved quality of life to residents with MS and Lou Gehrig’s disease: controlling lights, thermostats and entertainment at Boston's Leonard Florence Center.

A control system from Promixis gives new meaning to the term assisted living facility at the Leonard Florence Center for Living in Chelsea, Mass.
Julie Jacobson · October 18, 2011
Feels More Like Home
Bessems says the PEAC interface is “infinitely adjustable to each resident’s personal needs,” mostly through a user-friendly, dragand-drop interface: “Some residents want just a few basic buttons and the rest nested in sub screens, while others love to have button overload. Steve’s home theater page is an example of that.”

Indeed, in demonstrating his system for CE Pro, Saling moved effortlessly from email to thermostat control to streaming media. He uses an Internet-connected LG Blu-ray player for online services.

All of this he performs with a sense of joy and hopefulness, explaining, “I hope and expect that it will revolutionize” the way people live with ALS and other debilities. “I am independent from wake-up to sleep.”

Saling still needs help with some functions, like getting into bed and using the restroom, but even there he has some gadgets that get him from place to place and “clean my bum,” he jokes.

VIDEO: Steve Saling controls home entertainment via Promixis home automation dashboard and LG Blu-ray player with streaming services.

Residents of Leonard Florence are fortunate with the level of care they receive there. “This is not a nursing home with home trappings,” says Saling. “It is my home that happens to have excellent nursing staff.”

During the day, one nurse and three shahbazim (nursing aids) are available to residents, as are a variety of other profesionals including a talented cooking staff. On the day we visited, residents were sitting around a big dining table “discussing” the previous month’s meals and planning the (kosher) menu for the upcoming month.

Make no mistake, Leonard Florence is a high-end facility with chic amenities, beautiful commercial kitchens, and plenty of space. And it has a nice garden specified by chief landscaper Saling himself. The area is wheelchair-friendly with a specially reinforced lawn that won’t sink.

Unfortunately, Leonard Florence only accommodates 10 individuals each in the ALS and MS houses. But even with the limted capacity, says Mullen, “There really is no other residence in the country that’s done what we’ve done.” For all the grand amenities, though, it’s really the little things that give residents a good measure of dignity and independence — things like operating the TV, which is easily achieved through the system.

“Otherwise,” says Saling, “you just sit there and wait for someone to change the channel.”

Going Up, Going Down
If we can automate doors, windows, fireplaces and other home electronics, then elevators should be a breeze, right?

Not necessarily. The Kone elevator at the Leonard Florence Center was not equipped for remote control. Promixis hooked an IR-controlled relay system from GEWA into the elevator buttons, and bridged it to an optical controller that sits on top of the elevator.

VIDEO: Leonard Florence Center modified the elevators to enable operation via remote control.

Users communicate via Wi-Fi to the PEAC server, which relays signals optically to the elevator. The architecture mitigates any potential certification issues for the elevators, Promixis principal Ron Bessems says.

Of course, a rock-solid wireless network is required to ensure that signals permeate the elevator walls, but the facility does discourage unaccompanied travel in the elevators.

Apparently, Kone had never seen this level of integration with its elevators.

“I got to ride on top of the elevators while I was testing the system,” says Bessems. “The Kone guys couldn’t believe I was controlling the elevators from my laptop.”

Inspired Installations
The Leonard Florence project motivated Promixis to develop a complete assisted living practice, and the company has since been involved with several other projects for people with disabilities.

Bessems says of the Leonard Florence job, “Steve [Saling] is a great guy. Even though he can’t talk anymore and is severely restricted in his movement, he gives the tours of the facility, thanks to our system. It still gives me goose bumps.”

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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at

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  Article Topics

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