Technology is advancing faster than most of us can imagine. For those hoping to keep their senior loved ones at home longer, the new products on the market offer welcome solutions. In fact, connected devices – also known as the “Internet of Things,” or “IoT” – are expected to make up more than a billion dollars in annual U.S. sales by 2020. Seniors’ homes will certainly represent a significant portion of that revenue!
While these innovative tech ideas are certainly to be credited for the number of older loved ones experiencing more enriching lives through the practice of “aging in place,” they are not all that’s needed to keep mom or grandma in her home. For many, these solutions aren’t even solutions at all – as they assume certain amenities that may not be available in the senior home.
Let’s look at the benefits and drawback of the much-touted “connected home” – especially as it relates to senior care. An honest review of what’s working, and what’s not, should be explored before deciding on any of these products for your own situation.
1. Connected homes can improve communication.
Hardly anyone writes letters these days. While grandma may feel left out when she doesn’t receive that regular postal mail treat, connected homes give her a new – and often more consistent way – to send and receive communications to friends and loved ones. With everyone else using Facebook, text apps, and the latest photo sharing programs, your senior can stay part of the community she loves the most. Many connected homes have ways to keep in touch in every room, from the security camera by the front door to the Wi-Fi connected fridge in the kitchen!
2. Health and safety are number one.
Younger generations use the majority of their connected devices for research, social activities, and entertainment. While they are moving to incorporate more security and health services (in the form of security cameras, for example), it’s a ratio that still favors fun over functionality. For older consumers who don’t desire the amusement that connected homes provide, safety holds an amazing allure.
Knowing that they are protected from break-ins, can get help in a fall, or won’t mix up their meds in the middle of the night are all advantageous ways to utilize connected tech in the home. It is true that a segment of forward-thinking seniors only have to be introduced to the allure or Netflix and the ability to watch any home and garden show on demand to love the idea of Wi-fi, for example. For those who are resistant to embrace smart home tech for the fun of it, however, health and safety has been making converts of our oldest and wisest generation for a while now.
3. Institutional advantages are finally here.
Some of the perks of living in a retirement living facility include community, 24/7 support, and security. While living alone in the home can’t be made to be identical to living in an aging home, many institutional advances are now available to the everyday consumer through connected homes. Some of the same security systems, temperature controls, emergency service alerts, and medication management tools are now here for the average person to own and use on their own. These tools (coupled with skilled services in the form of nurse visits, meal prep services, and house cleaning) can offer a very similar atmosphere to the more innovative retirement communities. If it’s built on tech, it’s likely available to you — right now — for your home enjoyment.
4. It’s cheaper than you think.
The newest consumer tech to the market is priced at 400 – 800% above what ends up being the average price just two years later. That’s the nature of tech, and home automation is no different. The same security camera systems that cost thousands of dollars are now available for well under $400. Since many of our senior loved one’s homes are smaller (especially if you chose to “downsize” in the past few years), the need for more than a few cameras isn’t likely. More manageable homes mean you can get by with some of the smaller packages for products offered in home automation. That is good news for seniors on a budget who want the security and convenience of today’s tech but are making it on a pension or Social Security budget.
1. Customer Support is limited.
Currently, many of the medical alert devices on the market give you the option to connect to a 24/7 dedicated call center, where trained professionals can help answer questions or gauge the level of assistance needed. This can prevent costly and unnecessary calls to 911. For most of the connected home devices marketed to seniors, however, they are connected by wi-fi and directly send the caller to 911.
Not only will this likely result in accidental or unwarranted calls to already-stressed emergency call services, such as the police and paramedics, but the sheer thought that 911 will be activated is also enough for worried seniors to avoid using their devices for any help at all. A proud senior who may be unsure if they are experiencing a “true” emergency may forgo reaching out for help through their devices if they think their situation isn’t threatening enough.
2. Wi-Fi is required.
Most older Americans still read the newspaper, watch the local news on broadcast or cable TV, and listen to the radio. Their lives have been functioning quite well without wireless or broadband services, and they likely won’t switch over just for the opportunity to have a connected home. Since Wi-Fi is viewed by many seniors as an unnecessary, extra expense, it makes many a truly connected home impractical at the moment. When attitudes toward Wi-Fi change, and those who grew up using internet start to age, we’ll see this tide turn. For now, however, some seniors are a hard sell for installing Wi-Fi in the home – especially if they don’t use it for their own interests.
3. Voice activation is not reliable.
Talking to your home may seem strange to many of us, and while we are starting to embrace asking Siri for sports stats or Alexa for our next toilet paper order, the oldest generation isn’t yet a good match of this technology. Not only is the mere act of talking to a home ridiculous for some seniors, but it may also be difficult for frailer adults to speak loudly and clearly enough for some tech to pick up what they are saying. In the case of a senior who has fallen ill or is in real trouble, there’s nothing more reliable or dependable than the push of a button from a traditional medical alert pendant or assistive telephone device.
4. Setup isn’t always so simple.
While younger generations may be used to the concept of “plug and play,” for a senior who isn’t already using a smartphone, Roku stick, VOIP, wireless printer, and Wi-Fi thermostat, there can be quite a few challenges to becoming an efficient “smart home” aficionado. Starting from ground zero can be daunting as a concept, but even the execution of piecing together all the components – and teaching the senior how to use them – can take time.
Many of the electronics stores and manufacturers have a limited amount of customer support but may not be trained in dealing with users with mobility, hearing, or speech limitations. Securing the system, developing easy-to-remember passwords, and training seniors how to reset the system or troubleshoot in the even of wi-fi connection issues may take a more highly-trained professional to implement. Older consumers who are used to using connected devices may embrace them, but as upgraded models will require continual change, it may be an overall concept that is harder to sell to someone who likes things the way they are.
Is a connected home for you or your senior loved one?
The answer is always “depends.” While the best intentions can be declared and made by purchasing the more reliable tech on the market, if your family member won’t use it or do the bare minimum to maintain or ensure it’s functionality, it can be difficult to justify. In the case where the right home tech can keep your senior in the home longer, the answer may lie in being very honest about the situation. By explaining that these products are “different” but “necessary” the idea of home automation can be sold quite easily. Most of us have come to be very attached to the homes we have lived in over the years. It only makes sense that they continue to serve us well until our very last, wonderful days.