Most Baby Boomers expect they can age in their current home because they are healthier, wealthier, and plan to work into their 70’s (or beyond). However, even with those improvements, aging senior citizens face problems of declining strength, failing eyesight, and reduced mobility. For example, each year, about 30% of people aged 65 and over experience a fall, and 10% have multiple falls. In the cases of dementia and Alzheimer’s, seniors face decreasing cognitive and memory problems.
One of the most recent enhancements to the quality of life for senior citizens comes from adapting smart home technology to help them remain in their homes. Smart home technologies, such as such as sensors, voice activation, GPS, Bluetooth, and cellular connectivity, offer security to seniors AND their caregivers and family, as well as social interaction with the least amount of intrusion.
In fact, many smart or connected home technologies can already monitor and control things like heating, lighting, and security. For example:
- House-cleaning robots (such as iRobot) can take care of floor cleaning chores automatically and also be controlled via smart phones.
- Accelerometers have been developed specifically for fall detection, and connected technology has been used to develop interactive memory tools for assistance with medication oversight.
- Motion sensors can discretely monitor movements about the home, and inexpensive video cameras can provide both security coverage and a way for seniors to easily visit with distant family members.
How Does Smart Technology Actually Help Senior Citizens?
According to the National Council on Aging, about 80% of senior citizens have one chronic disease, and 68% have at least two of them. Consequently, most older people need multiple medications multiple times a day. In some individuals with memory problems, this compounds the task. In these instances, connected technology provides a way to gently remind the user about various tasks, such as taking medications, without being intrusive or nagging.
- MedMinder looks like regular seven-day model pill organizer. A caregiver fills the medicine tray that goes into the device. The adult child logs onto the Web, remotely programs the schedule and can see if the user has taken the medication out of the dispenser. If the user doesn’t take the medicine, they get a phone call and the family member receives an email, text, or call. The user can also be reminded with a recorded familiar voice — such as a grandchild.
- Reminder Rosie is a personalized, voice-controlled reminder system that not only can remind users about medications, but also feeding pets, washing dishes, medical appointment, and all manner of everyday tasks. Resembling an unobtrusive digital clock, it works almost entirely by voice, thus greatly reducing the need for the older adult to fiddle with buttons. Voice reminders can be customized with the voices of family members to make the experience more pleasant.
A mobile Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) lets you monitor parents or aging friends at home or while they go on long walks. Such devices rely on emergency response devices such as wrist bands and pendents that indicate falls and also act as “help buttons.” The devices provide GPS location information and help initiate dispatching emergency services. Examples of these kind of services include GreatCall, MobileHelp, and LifeAlert.
Other services incorporate specific smart and connected devices designed to monitor senior citizens who may face a combination of more difficult health challenges and help provide peace of mind to adult children. Falls, for example, can are particularly dangerous and can result in broken bones and severe head injuries. Tracking movements throughout the day have the potential of indicating possible health problems before they turn into an emergency.
- Alarm.com Wellness uses sensors positioned throughout the home to track movement and activity to give insight into restlessness, wandering, eating habits, falls, excessive bathroom visits, and medication compliance. It also includes home automation devices to let family members and caregivers relieve their loved ones of having to remember their home’s lights, locks, and temperature control.
- Lively has a cellular based hub that communicates with activity sensors (two for pill boxes) placed around the home to detect movement. Family and caregivers can log onto a website to check activity. It also comes with an Emergency Response watch that uses an accelerometer to count footsteps and includes a panic button to contact Lively’s emergency center.
- eCare21 is a sensor-using smart phone app and monitoring service that also includes wearable devices help to track glucose, heart rate, physical activity, medication compliance, weight, calorie intake, and sleep. Patients are monitored 24/7 with information shared to a family member or caregiver.
Addressing the Technology Gap
One of the challenges with the adoption of this smart home technology has been marketing the concepts to senior citizens directly, especially those who are not computer literate. Admittedly, technology has been notoriously complicated to use, and often uses displays that look fine for 30-somethings but are difficult for an older adult to see, especially with the common complaint of presbyopia (smart phone screens are danged small).
Changes that include simplifying and improving the interface has been key to selling them on the conveniences and benefits. However, as the computer and internet-savvy generations age, expectations for what this technology can do and how it’s used will undoubtedly change as well.
Do you have any experience with or recommendations about using smart home technology to benefit senior citizens? Please share with us in the comments!