SMART HOMES for SENIORS
Smart homes for seniors has become a topic of interest for many
families, especially those who may not be able to afford professional care for their
elderly relatives. Smart homes can contain technological gadgets to aid with
vision, hearing, memory problems, and mobility, etc., all areas in which
elderly persons in otherwise relatively good health could be able to live
independently in their own homes much longer.
Seniors, those persons 65 years and older, now make up
approximately 15% of our US population or almost 50 million citizens, and the
number is growing. Smart homes for seniors can help to extend
independent living until a home or clinic becomes the only option.
The technology used in smart homes for seniors can, in most
cases, actually replace a nurse’s visits. Gadgets can monitor a senior’s
health, remind them to take their medication, and respond to emergencies. While
improving the life of a senior, the technology can also help other groups of
people who may have one or more specific needs similar to that of an elderly
person, such as vision, hearing, and mobility.
WHAT IS THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND THE SMART HOMES FOR SENIORS?
The technology behind smart homes for seniors is a relatively new buzzword called ‘Io T’ or the
Internet of Things. What is it? The Internet of Things is increased
machine-to-machine communication built on cloud computing and networks of
data-gathering sensors. It is basically the connection of machines and sensors.
But a machine is a just a tool and a sensor just gathers data. Unless there is
an infrastructure to analyze the data in real time and transmit it to the
machine, the data is useless. The answer is cloud-based applications used to
interpret and transmit the data from the sensors to the machines. The Internet
of Things makes gadgets and homes ‘smart.’
HOW IS ‘SMART’ TECHNOLOGY
SPECIFICALLY DIFFERENT FOR SENIORS?
The ‘smart’ technology that must be made available for
seniors has to take into account the inevitable health challenges a person
faces as they age. Degrees of change in cognitive function, vision, hearing and
small motor skills are some primary examples.
Therefore, the smart gadgets designed to be used by seniors should
contain at least the following options:
- Should be able to respond to voice commands,
even able to recognize indistinct speech.
- Should have extreme simplicity in design. For
example, easily recognizable icons on physical devices, such as a pill for
medication, a light bulb for lighting, etc.
- Should have buttons that are very large and
significantly different in color to account for small motor problems that make it
difficult to hit targets such as buttons on a device. They should also be easy
to press, especially for those who suffer from arthritis.
- Should have a single control center. If
something goes wrong, a lot of buttons or controls may confuse or scare some
- Should have any kind of abnormality or warning
- Should have protection against error while
avoiding the word ‘error’ since if an interaction fails, elderly persons may
blame themselves for being clumsy and stop using the device.
- Should have protection against false calls.
Rather than having the control system worn in a pocket, the devices should be
able to be worn on the body, such as watches, bracelets and pendants.
- Should allow older people a choice of shape and
design for their devices, so they can choose what they like.
- Should be durable enough to withstand accidental
- Should have a long battery life. There should also
be a way for the gadget to inform a person in advance that the battery needs
charging or replacing, so that relatives of older people will have time to take
care of it.
- Should have easy to read results collected by
sensors, such as for blood pressure readings, and should have recommendations made
- Should have multi-language support as well. If
an older person doesn’t speak English as their first language, there must be
apps that support their native language.
The above recommendations are just the beginning. The ideal
to strive for would be to test groups of older people with a range of different
health problems and use their comments and concerns when designing gadgets.
WHAT KINDS OF DEVICES
DO ELDERLY PEOPLE NEED?
The following is taken from an article written by Evgeniy
Ilyenko, Project Head at CLAP
Smart Home System, created in the Ukraine, and the first full-fledged smart
The gadgets needed in a smart home for the elderly can be
roughly classified into 4 groups.
Here are the basic ones:
worn near the heart, used to keep track of the heart rate, respiration rate,
temperature, and pressure. In case of any abnormalities the sensors send
messages to relatives and doctors. The data is sent to the smartphone and to
the cloud, and the app gives recommendations on lifestyle modifications, or
advises the user to see a doctor.
sensors and behavior sensors. 50% of people over 65 can’t get up if they
fall down. Lying on the floor without being able to get up for a long time can
cause many complications, and can lead to dehydration and even death. The sensor
transmits a signal to the smart home control center that turns on the alarm.
After that a person has 30 seconds to turn off the sound. If they aren’t able
to do it, the information will be sent to the relatives and the rescue service,
and the family can open the door remotely.
sensors can track whether a person has gotten up and out of bed, and if they
have opened the fridge. They can even detect changes in gait and report
such changes to the relatives, helping to prevent a fall.
dispensers with compartments for each day of the week. The compartments
start flashing lights and emitting alarms when it’s time to take medication. If
the medication isn’t taken, the relatives can remotely check whether their loved ones are taking their pills.
SAFETY AT HOME AND OUTDOORS
trackers with an alarm button. An older person can press the button if they
get lost or scared. The gadget will notify relatives with a link to the GPS
tracker’s location on the online map.
and door sensors. Open/Close sensors signal if a door or a window isn’t
- Alarm and
video surveillance systems. Cameras can also be placed inside the house,
enabling relatives to remotely keep an eye on their elderly. Outdoor cameras
can detect suspicious activity and the smart house reports on any potential
for hearing-impaired people. They show who is behind the door, and transmit
voice messages if the owner can’t open the door.
gas, and, humidity detectors. These devices notify owners of smoke,
flooding, or gas leakages. Should the need arise, they can block water and gas
and cut off electricity in the house.
APPLIANCE CONTROL AND HOUSEHOLD ASSISTANCE
systems for lighting, heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning. With
sensors collecting data about the temperature, humidity, and carbon monoxide
concentration in the air, the system can automatically improve these
systems for electrical appliances. A control system can help, for instance,
make coffee in a coffee machine, or turn off the iron (the On/Off status of the
appliances is displayed in the app).
- Smart pet
care robots. The robots can be controlled remotely: they can feed animals
and give them water, talk to them in their owner’s voice, play using a laser
RECREATION AND ENTERTAINMENT
- Audio and video systems. Can be used to turn on music and video in different rooms.
assistants. Such devices can carry out conversations, make purchase, pick out a recipe, etc.
Digital Photo Frames.
Standard digital photo frames might show the same photos for months as some
people forget to upload new photos. Smart frames can be controlled remotely.
Children and grandchildren can share their travel photos with their elderly by
sending the photos directly to the device from their smartphones.
SENIOR SMART HOMES
SENIORS LIVING INDEPENDENTLY
Living independently as a senior in one’s own home can not
only bring benefits to the quality of life of the senior but can also help to forestall
the financial burden for the family imposed by assisted living and nursing
homes. Thus, the most intensive care can be saved for the time, should it come,
when even the smart home cannot fulfill all the needs of the elderly family
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