Nov 22 2019
Patient-Centered Care

The Transformative Power of Smart Home Technologies

Tools to help older adults and people with disabilities show great promise in ensuring safety and greater independence.

From on-demand voice assistants to tablets that handle manual tasks with a simple touch, smart home technologies are making life easier for everyone. 

The global market is set to surpass $100 billion by the end of the year, a report from Strategy Analytics notes, with an 11 percent compound annual growth rate through 2023. It predicts that 6.4 billion smart home devices will be in use by the end of this period. That’s an average of 21 such connected devices per home. 

But the tools are far more than a cool feature for the able-bodied: They offer a clear benefit for people with disabilities. Such functions can also boost independence for older adults and reduce safety hazards, such as falling.

As the devices to support them become less costly and more widely available, we’re likely to see these populations remain in their homes longer — or with less assistance — and feel more empowered in common scenarios those without disabilities might take for granted.

MORE FROM HEALTHTECH: Discover why smartphones and tablets make sense for senior care.

How Smart Homes Help People with Disabilities

Last month, finishing touches were put on an Orange County residence operated by Easterseals Southern California. The four-bedroom ranch, which houses several older adults with disabilities, is now a fully equipped smart home designed with their needs in mind.

With the help of CDW, the nonprofit upgraded the home’s infrastructure to integrate and support these new technologies. Our team worked to provide a Wi-Fi needs analysis, design a roadmap for implementation and ensure all endpoints were segmented and secured.

The rollout included: 

  • Breezie tablets equipped with a custom-built interface used to control a host of smart home tools, including Nest thermostats, lighting, front door locks (it can also open and close the door) and televisions. This is particularly helpful for nonverbal individuals. 
  • Google Home devices that react to preprogrammed voice commands (such as “good morning” to raise window blinds) and are personalized to the needs of each user. Keeping prompts simple helps users remember them and execute tasks easily.
  • Smart shower technology, controlled by voice or touch, that turns on the water to a preprogrammed temperature setting. This eases the bathing process and eliminates the risk of being burned while turning on a faucet manually. 

I’m truly excited to see these functions in action. They’re also poised to assist more people with similar needs and living arrangements: The home’s plan was conceived to support future rollouts in other Easterseals residences.

READ MORE: Learn about telehealth’s growing role in senior care.

Smart Home Tech in Residential Care Settings

The Easterseals project is just one example of the technology’s great potential.

One recent study found depression scores dropped by 44 percent among older adults in a residential care setting who used Amazon Echo Dot smart speakers over a six-month period. When their devices are synced with useful, building-specific data, users might ask to confirm a therapy appointment, consult an activities calendar or inquire about the evening’s dinner menu. 

At Atlanta-based Thrive Senior Living, Google and Amazon smart speakers are being leveraged to support a custom suite of enterprise applications that route requests and questions to care teams. A test run found that residents liked the approach, and employees came better equipped to assist due to the information they received on a connected mobile app.

Sun Health Communities in Arizona is going all-in with the construction of “smart casitas” that use customized Alexa skills tied to HVAC systems, lighting and on-premises services. It’s also building an innovation center to showcase new technologies and gain user feedback. 

At the nonprofit Front Porch, which operates 10 retirement communities, residents already are offering input via focus groups. “[S]ome will use voice but some want to use a tablet or television … so people can live the way they want, using multiple modalities,” Kari Olson, the organization’s chief innovation and technology officer, told Senior Housing News

Taken together, these examples underscore why smart tech shouldn’t just be viewed as flashy and fun. For some, this is life-changing stuff.

This article is part of HealthTech’s MonITor blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using #WellnessIT.


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