Given the option of where they’d like to spend their later years, millions of Americans would prefer to stay home.
According to a recent AARP survey, 76% of respondents over 50 said they want to remain in their current residence instead of moving to an assisted-living facility or other housing arrangement.
Aging in place may be a distant prospect for people with decades of vibrant professional work and active social lives still ahead of them. Nevertheless, it’s a wise investment to plan in advance how your house can accommodate you down the line.
Making physical home modifications in anticipation of the demands of aging is nothing new. If you’ve cared for an aging parent or relative or spent time in a assisted-living facility, you’ll be familiar with many of the common additions: grab bars in the bathroom, wheelchair accessible entryways, raised toilet seats, and so on.
As today’s adults age into tomorrow’s seniors, moreover, they’ll also be able to take advantage of modifications to “smart home” technologies they’re already using. Embracing tech that saves time and energy now can also improve your safety and connectivity in decades to come.
Getting smart about the future
Smart home technology already automates basic household tasks, like turning on lights, monitoring activity inside and outside the house, and connecting appliances to the internet.
And more-advanced features are on the way, as artificial intelligence technology is incorporated into everyday activities. Soon it may be nothing special for an elderly American to have a robotic home assistant that does the laundry, dispenses medication, cooks meals, makes the bed, adjusts the lights, and feeds the dog.
So what smart home technologies will help you stay at home in decades to come?
Your health, monitored constantly
From wearable monitors that can detect abnormal spikes in heart rate, to sensors in the home that track movement and can recognize a dangerous physical accident, the list of smart home services designed to protect and maintain a person’s well-being continues to expand.
Most medical-alert services can be configured to send automatic alerts to family members, friends, or emergency services when necessary, and can link to smart phones and home-security systems for added connectivity.
A pilot program in England implements the same technology used in driverless cars to help seniors live at home longer by monitoring and reporting their movements. The artificial intelligence at work can track the physical routine of the person and recognize when any changes to that routine occur, including a fall or a more gradual decline on mobility and health.
The cane that can see
Canes have long been helpful for physical support. But now, Gabe Turner, analyst of smart home technology at Security Barron told Considerable, they can also provide an extra set of eyes.
“Believe it or not, there are smart canes available such as the WeWALK cane that can detect obstacles above chest level, warning with vibrations. It can also be paired with phones which allow for easy navigation, integrating with voice assistants and Google Maps. This is ideal for a senior or anyone with visual disabilities.”
Today’s devices tomorrow
Smart thermostats, vacuum cleaners, ovens, microwaves, security systems, medication dispensers, lights and TVs: The list of “smart” home devices goes go on and on.
Some of these you may already use; some you may find silly; but the fact is they designed to make life simpler, safer, and more connected, considerations that are essential to aging in place.
Whether or not you presently have any interest in one of these devices, keep an open mind about them, especially when thinking about ways to prepare your home to accommodate you as you age.
The smart home hub
The Amazon Echo and Google Home are two of the best-known smart home devices that feature voice recognition and provide a range of services for people in their homes. These smart home assistants can answer questions, set timers, play music, make phone calls, turn on lights, lock doors, and more.
These clever devices can also integrate with medical-alert systems to ensure help gets on its way ASAP.
Beyond the logistical support they can offer, virtual assistants are also offer social benefits for elderly folks who may spend a lot of time alone. Alexa may not laugh at your jokes, but she’ll certainly listen to them.
Part of the appeal of the smart home hub is that as these various services become more advanced, they will also become more integrated, and capable of being controlled in one central place — the hub. So if you have an Alexa now and enjoy how it tells you the weather, soon it will likely be able to operate your home in new and innovative ways.
The robots are coming
Aaron Price, owner of Interim Healthcare of Louisville, an in-home senior care provider, was quick to point out that the technology advancements haven’t yet made serious inroads into helping folks with serious physical needs.
“While assistive devices like chairs and lifts have gotten better, the technology just isn’t to the point where it can help without additional human assistance.”
What specific developments does Price think will make a difference for people?
“Smart home technology hasn’t really helped people with physical needs and likely won’t until robotics advances to the point where things like loading a laundry machine, loading and unloading the dishwasher, making the bed, and even transferring a person are a reality.”
But some versions of these advancements are already here, and more are assuredly on the way. If and when they become demonstrably helpful, and affordable, remains to be seen, but there’s no doubt that smart homes will only become more advanced — and soon.