How Aging in Place is Transforming the Smart Home


With the advent of the smart home, aging in place is bringing together “smart” technologies to extend the window for independent living as people grow older. In the US, 36 million people use a voice assistant (VA) at least once a month and 4 in 10 adults who own a VA have multiple devices. But, how exactly is Alexa or Google Assistant supposed help with mobility, access, and care for aging in place?

The smart home today has been widely marketed as a next level experience for homeowners, apartment dwellers, and even property managers. Some companies, however, are focusing on individuals who have real health challenges, either themselves or as caregivers and family members. What happens to our independence as we age? What happens to the caregiver as years pass? What if our homes could help us and help others in the process?

It takes a village to become who we are and it will take a village to care for us as we age. But that village doesn’t have to work harder, it could work smarter.

Unifying the Home for Long-Term Well-Being

Keith Hughes, founder and CEO of Inhabitech, says he would like us to think about the home as “a benevolent spirit that watches over us; keeping us well”. Inhabitech’s Hestia, named after the Greek Goddess of the Hearth, was built with the vision to do just that - monitor the health and wellness of aging adults while they maintain a large degree of independent living. By 2030, adults 65 and up are expected to reach 20% of the total US population. For the first time in history, we will have more retirement age adults than we do children. But, in the U.S., the elderly are considered to be “America’s forgotten citizens”.

Due to a culture that largely values productivity over well-being (read: leisure), groups like the National Senior Citizen Law Center have advocated for increased options for in-home and community care, among other health and low-income programs. Placing an aging adult, who needs limited assistance day-to-day, in a caregiving facility, can sometimes feel more like a sentencing than a helpful solution. And yet, those tasked with caregiver duties also feel the effects of routine assistance, both mentally and physically, as much as 3 years after care ends. For Keith and Inhabitech, the goal is “to unify together, the universe of care for the older adult and fundamentally change people’s lives in the process”. Keith isn’t alone.

Interoperability for the Greater Good

According to the Pew Research Center, use of mobile phones by people 65 and up has increased from 18% to 42% in just 5 years. That number varies depending on household income. In homes earning less than $30K a year, only 27% reported owning a mobile phone compared to 81% of older Americans whose income was $75K or more.

Last year, Shaun Owens, Director for Strategy and Innovation for the USC SmartHOME Center for Economic Excellence, and Kevin Wimberly, President & CEO of SC Uplift Community Outreach, revealed South Carolina’s first affordable smart home for those who cannot afford assisted living care. The home features a universal design, accessibility friendly appliances and cabinetry, energy efficiency, and more. With support from Palmetto Health, the home also features custom telehealth services. For Sean and Kevin, the goal was to show people the potential for affordable smart housing and how it might work for low-income seniors. To keep costs low, SC SmartHOME went with off-shelf smart home products, like Kwikset’s Smart Lock and Honeywell’s Smart Thermostat, making the home easier to reproduce in the future.

elderly at home

Using devices people already have access to, is the preferred strategy for many service providers. Pat Kelly, CEO and Founder of Routinify finds that although off-the-shelf products are full featured, there is a narrow consumer perspective on how one can use them. “People generally get confused when it comes to building value inside your home” , says Pat. Routinify, a remote care management system designed by and for seniors, care givers, and families, improves quality of life of older adults by enabling habits for aging well.

Routinify takes advantage of products like wearables, motion sensors, lightbulbs, and TVs, among other devices to service seniors in the home, while bringing peace of mind to their families. The engineers at Inhabitech don’t want to be in the hardware space either. They want people to install anything they want and use Hestia to make those devices even smarter.

“The vision we have”, says Keith, “is that you have a smart home already or we give you recommendations for off-the-shelf solutions. Install anything you want - use Yonomi to get all of the devices to work together.”

Connectivity Challenges for Seniors and the Smart Home

Managing Connectivity

Aging in place solutions are challenged with problems sometimes overlooked in smart home. Routinify and Inhabitech both discuss how adoption in the space is slow either from systemic barriers in healthcare or resistance from the end user. Not only are older adults resistant to change, they often don’t see the value given decreasing exposure to technology with age. Infrastructure is a huge challenge as well.

Routinify’s smart displays are on android and tablet so they work with LTE environments, but WiFi is the biggest problem. “There is no administrator; no one in the home is managing connectivity as a critical resource” says Pat. That’s when the little things, like remembering the password and SYS ID, become big hurdles. After all, “in order for an IoT device to work, you need the ‘I’”, he says. Resistance is less obvious from caregivers. According to research from the AARP, 90% of caregivers want to use technology to help them, but only 7% actually do so.

Interoperability in the Mainstream

Interoperability remains a challenge for the smart home platform and the solutions trying to build on it. With no common standard and cumbersome integrations, services are limited by custom 3rd party integrations. Yet, as Alexa and Google continue to penetrate the market, more consumers are realizing that one-off actions from “smart” devices aren’t useful to anyone - especially for those aging in place. The true value of the smart home is when the things in your home work together, bringing you peace of mind, efficiency, and delight.

The demand for interoperability grows as smart products become ubiquitous in the home. It is an essential factor for businesses as they scale, which makes working with the right platform partner a mission critical choice. Integrating solutions to a broad, open, and flexible ecosystems means one less technical challenge to solve.

Focusing on the Solution, Not the Tech

Pat isn’t trying to fix the smart home or disrupt IoT. His mission is focused on bringing a complete and usable solution to caregivers and aging adults that will improve their mental and physical well-being. He challenges businesses to be weary of the technology trap. He says we should be mindful to focus on the solution and not the tech, “if someone recognizes that it is IoT, then they acknowledge it.” The case is the same for Inhabitech and SC SmartHOME.

By building on platforms like Yonomi One, Routinify and Inhabitech can focus on creating services that improve the lives of aging adults, caregivers, and loved ones and giving back a freedom of choice that is long overdue.

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