Enabling people to live independently in their own homes has become increasingly important as the elderly population expands. With one in every five people expected to live to be a hundred, the demand for care is increasing and technology has a large part to play in avoiding a crisis. Putting carefully designed technological systems into people’s homes can help them with their everyday needs and reduce the need for care.
Focusing on individual needs is the first step in planning a so-called “smart home”. Assisted living solutions comprise many different technologies to meet different needs, such as improving accessibility, building independence and assisting communication, and it is important to assess the specific needs of the user. A pendant alarm for elderly people is very simple to install and use but can make a vast difference to someone who otherwise would not have the confidence to live independently. There are certain connected technologies designed to help with problems such as immobility or sensory issues such as deafness or blindness. For example, something as simple as a door entry system can make a real difference to someone with mobility issues, or a visual alert can be useful for someone unable to hear an audible alarm. The technology selected for an individual needs to work with their needs and those of other stakeholders such as carers, relatives and professionals. It is important to assess what will actually work well for the individual, and this means taking the views of everyone involved into account. Not all technological solutions are appropriate, and it is important that the individual will be able to use the systems effectively. In order to facilitate this, extensive research about the person’s day-to-day activities should be carried out before assisted living solutions are put in place. The mental and physical status of the person will also help to determine what technology will be most helpful to them.
Changes can sometimes be difficult for elderly or disabled people to cope with, so it is important to handle these very carefully. If it is possible to build a control system into an existing device, this can often make the transition simpler for the person. Automation can be used to reduce the physical effort needed by the resident, but all systems need to be easy enough for the person to use. If the user has a mobile phone and is accustomed to using it, control from this can be very useful, especially for partially sighted people and those who have difficulty reaching things like thermostats or light switches.
The reliance on technology can be a problem for elderly or vulnerable people if untoward events occur. For example, a power cut may make various systems fail, so back-up systems such as a physical way of unlocking doors need to be in place if the automated door entry system fails. Systems need to be flexible and allow for changes as the person changes. An older person may become less mobile and need adaptations to the system. A further consideration is the potential impact on a property's value that the installation of a smart system may have. Technology can enable more people to remain in their own homes for longer and improve their quality of life.