Incorporating technology into homes of aging people is one way to extend their autonomy and ability to remain in their homes for an extended period of time. In general, smart technologies used to aid the elderly fall into three categories: health, security, and convenience.
Health related systems monitor, record, and sometimes transmit physiological data like heart rate, blood pressure, and weight. Security systems monitor personal safety, detect intruders, provide secure communication with persons outside doorways, and detect falls, smoke, and other hazards. Convenience systems provide home appliance control, energy management, and similar comfort or convenience related applications.
One consideration for building or retrofitting homes for the 50-80 year old population is an understanding of what features of health, security, and convenience systems are most appealing to this group.
Security is most often cited as the number one concern of aging populations. When interviewed, they express concerns and fears of accidents due to limited mobility, like falling, or accidents due to forgetfulness or distraction, like leaving on the gas or water tap, or forgetting to lock the door. Hence, systems that provide some detection of and automation of gas, water, and door status would all be highly valued by this population group.
Convenience or comfort-related sensors and systems present a less clear picture. A study done in Spain of individuals between 50 and 80 found that control of lighting, heating, window treatments, and kitchen appliances was of interest to this age group; however, other studies have shown that individuals in this age group would be resistance to homes that have too much automation and fear losing control.
The acceptance of all of these systems is based upon ease of use and level of intrusion of the system into privacy and activities of daily living. Disabled individuals who are hearing or visually impaired may have difficulty responding to audible alarm systems or voice prompts and visually interacting with small display screens that some systems have.
A certain level of system intrusiveness is reported to be acceptable, particularly if it is seen as increasing security. Other system features, like video monitoring or movement monitoring within the home, are viewed as overly invasive. In Europe, the use of alarms that alert a contact outside of the home to a problem varies with the age of the user, and increased in all age groups over a 6-year period from 2001 to 2007, as shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1: Age-related utilisation of social alarms among the 50+ population in five EU countries. (Source: Senior Watch 2, European Commission Information, Society, and Media, final report)
The bottom line is that there will be a range of smart technologies that can be used to extend independent living for the aging populations worldwide. The specific sensors and user interfaces associated with these systems will vary due to the needs of the individual. Adaptability of the system, both across populations of multiple individuals as well as across time for a given individual as aging progresses, will be a key to commercial viability and consumer acceptance.Log in to post comments