Smart homes could revolutionise the lives of older people in our society, according to a three-year study undertaken by researchers from Singapore Management University. Project SHINE Seniors involved installing motion sensors and panic buttons in the one-bedroom apartments of 50 senior citizens. These connected them to medical professionals and an emergency response team.
The goal of the pilot study was to determine whether older people would be able to remain in their own homes rather than move to sheltered housing or a care setting if their homes were adapted with smart technology. Motion sensors and telecare alarms were installed in each home. Motion sensors are crucial for maintaining safety, because they can detect a situation where the individual had perhaps fallen or become ill or immobile. If the sensors detect a significant period of inactivity, they can send a message to a trained response team who can rush to the scene. The reasoning behind this is that if somebody has fallen, or suffered a stroke or other debilitating physical event, they will be unable to access their personal alarm.
The research project was the brainchild of Professor Tan Hwee Pink, Academic Director at iCityLab, who conducted the study. The project was part of a wider endeavour in Singapore to provide a technology-enabled solution to the needs of an ageing population. Singapore has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, and there are concerns that the younger generation is simply not large enough to care for its forebears. One of the difficulties facing teams who provide elderly care is how to safely monitor those at risk when staffing is low. Sitting alongside this dilemma is the need for independence and privacy amongst the elderly, many of whom would feel imposed upon by constant checks from relatives or carers. Smart technology such as the panic buttons and motion sensors piloted in this study can provide an excellent solution to the resourcing problem and the independence issue. Most older people who participated in the study said they would much prefer to stay in their own homes rather than move into assisted living, and the data gathered using the smart technology added a safety blanket into their lives with discreet, non-invasive monitoring. The unobtrusive nature of the motion sensors means that people are far more likely to accept them into their lives than cameras or audio devices, which create the dreaded "Big Brother" scenario. All of the people who participated in the study expressed a desire to continue with their personal alarms and motion sensors. It is now expected that Singapore will build many of these smart homes as part of its endeavour to support its ageing population and ease the pressure on health services.