As smart homes and smart devices become more prevalent in our daily living, our lives are increasingly altered in favor of a more tech-dependent existence. But beyond advances in medical technology, do these devices and smart homes really help the elderly? Let’s take a look.
What do we mean by “smart home”? This term can have a number of different meanings, but here, we’re talking about a house or apartment that includes Internet-connected devices as part of its basic functions, such as for appliances, lighting and climate control, security, locks, etc. Any home can become a smart home and doesn’t have to mean a home built from scratch to be a smart home.
In this kind of house, the devices are meant to augment daily living and automate certain tasks or make them easier to manage. For example, a smart lock or digital lock can be used to replace keys, which can easily be lost or misplaced. With a digital lock, you set a passcode to unlock the door. Using an app, you can then create unique codes for specific people that only they have access to, create temporary codes for cleaners or pet-sitters, or check if the door is locked or unlocked and remotely operate it. A child or caregiver could have the app on their phone as well and if their loved one calls saying they’ve been locked out, it’s possible to remotely open the door for them.
One downside is that a lot of these devices are either dependent on an app or have an app that can be used to operate them. This alone could present a barrier to older adults, who overall tend to be less comfortable with technology and are less likely to own a smartphone in general.
However, many of these devices do have features that could be extremely valuable. Programmable lighting, for example, can be used to provide light at times when the person needs it most, and can be set to the correct brightness. The ability to use devices by voice control, or having the ability to tap a large button rather than have to utilize finer motor skills that have become challenging or even impossible, is of immense value to someone who has mobility challenges.
Also, the ability to call for help when something goes wrong, or add an increased sense of security to an older adult who may be living alone, can decrease worry and anxiety and provide peace of mind to the older adult as well as their family. For example, smart doorbells allow the older adult to see who is at the door and decide if they would even open the door.
It’s possible to make use of better technology without having a fully-outfitted smart home. Upgrading a home can be expensive depending on the level of technology you want or need, so it can be a process that happens over time as the technology fits into your budget. Adding new technology slowly can also be beneficial for an older adult who isn’t as comfortable with the technology as their younger family members, and gives them time to learn something new without becoming overwhelmed.
All of this comes with a caveat, of course. Some older adults are simply resistant to learning or using unfamiliar technology. Just like anyone else, some can be taught, some can be convinced, and others will remain reluctant or outright refuse.
Talk to your loved one and find out what they’re comfortable with. It may also be a good idea to find out what their biggest concerns are. Are they most worried about mobility and lighting challenges, which could potentially be assisted by smart lights, or are they more concerned about feeling and staying safe in their home, which could potentially be addressed by a security system or smart locks?
For more ideas, one resource is A Place For Mom, which has some smart tech ideas on their blog: https://www.aplaceformom.com/blog/smart-tech-devices-for-senior-safety/
As always, feel free to reach out to professionals in your area for advice. Many will offer a free consultation, so you can meet them and choose someone you’re comfortable with to offer advice.