Do you picture yourself shuffling slowly away into a care home, no longer able to live in your own space and with the people you love? Of course not and thankfully nowadays, thanks to an explosion of technology specifically aimed at independent living, nor should you be expected to.
Older age might have its drawbacks, but it is also a golden time to spend with people you care about and continue to live a free and independent life, rather than slip into a permanent decline, lonely and with a very real fear of being forgotten about.
It’s not just the ambition of older people to live on their own terms, but anyone with a disability who worries about becoming increasingly dependent on other people as they age.
So how has technology helped to answer this challenge and help seniors stick the middle finger up at group care homes, while managing to stay on top of their game in terms of self-care?
The very short answer is thanks to an all-inclusive, network spanning technology that flips from home gadget, to car, to smartphone and back again. The Internet of Things (IoT) has changed old age as we know it and turned back the clock.
It’s a term that is used to describe that interconnectivity between our everyday electronic devices that allows them to send and receive data to and from each other. It’s been a slow and steady evolution in how we live, work and play.
But as momentum grows, the IoT has ceased to become something novel, time saving and fun to play with and started to show real significance in the realm of care and even construction with one firm in the US – embedding a smart device into concrete to keep track of its wear and tear.
There’s simply no stopping it, and this has good and, of course, bad implications, more of which we’ll come to later. But for now, how is the IoT giving us a rosier future?
There was a time when having someone safe in their own home meant installing bright red pull cords in the bathroom and requiring the person to wear a button on string around their neck. This was ok, it kind of worked, except when it didn’t and that’s when there was a real problem.
What happened if the person was unconscious or couldn’t reach the cord or simply took the button off and forgot to put it back on? This technology was limited.
Stepping into save the day we have the voice activated smart speaker that is Alexa, from Amazon and her counterparts.
Pre-loaded with skills and apps specific for seniors and anyone needing a hand with their independent living, Alexa is being rolled out as the answer to how to remember medication, manage schedules and connect straight through to an emergency service or care provider. Connected up to a door sensor and camera, Alexa will tell you who’s pressing the doorbell and of course you can use the device for entertainment too.
There’s simply no end to the possibilities this provides people. It will only get smarter with research into how to make these devices more intuitive in their responses and pick up on language nuance, as well as out and out questions and commands.
While smart speakers and the like go an awfully long way in just making life feel easier and more secure, there will be times when a central monitoring system will need to be in place, particularly for people with more complex needs.
Although it might sound intrusive, it doesn’t have to be. Imagine sensors placed on refrigerators that let a monitoring agent know how many times the fridge door has been opened, when and for how long.
How about monitors that track body heat and movement throughout the home, without necessarily sending back live images, keeping track on when people are eating and if they are staying active. Add in some monitoring of ambient temperature and you’ve got all the data you need for a hands-off analysis of a person’s well-being.
The communication must go two ways and the smart money predicts even more responsive touch screen and voice-activated tablets. These will connect a person to a loved one, or central help agency, at spoken command or touch of a virtual button.
So far, so good. But what of the drawbacks? Well, if you found the close monitoring of individuals somewhat creepy, you make a good point. It’s this privacy and security issue that crops up again and again.
Quite simply, the IoT can leave you immensely vulnerable to cyber attacks and hacks. It’s not easy to protect that stand-alone smart device, that doesn’t function on an operating system. And if it’s on its own, how can you patch it to stand up against attacks?
The other issue is that if a third party, such as a care provider or agency, is monitoring your home a hack can render useless a huge number of devices and that will affect a lot of people. Unless you are personally in charge of beefing up your security, how will you know it’s being done effectively?
Security experts often focus their attention on the consequences of IoT hacks on business. But when we’re talking about technology that is relied upon by older and vulnerable people, there’s a lot more at stake.