The smart home installations you work on today may include fiber, structured wiring, and a media panel to make sure all Wi-Fi-enabled features work seamlessly. The smart home installations you work on in the future may also include a network of sensors and devices designed to ensure that ageing homeowners can maintain their independence longer.

As baby boomers retire, and average life expectancy rises, North America will have more seniors to care for than ever before. In the U.S. seniors will make up more than 21% of the population by 2040, and in Canada, they will make up 25% by the mid-2030s.

This population change has serious impacts on the health care system, as people are prone to illness as they age. One approach that is gaining a lot of traction is using technology to help seniors live independently longer.

Standard smart home technology makes life easier for seniors. Voice-activated lights and appliances are easier to use, and security features like cameras at their front doors give them peace of mind. Now, additional smart home technology can monitor their health and wellness and help keep them safer.

Technology assistance is not a new thing in elder care. For many years, seniors have been able to get wearable technology that detects if they have fallen down. But not all seniors appreciate emergency wearables. Many don’t want the constant reminder that they require assistance, and they value their privacy as well.

Fortunately, the smart home features available for seniors, called senior living systems, are becoming more sophisticated and unobtrusive. Both the qorvo Senior Lifestyle System and HoneyCo have developed systems that don’t require wearables or cameras.

In these systems, wireless nodes and discrete sensors can be set up throughout the home in strategic locations. During a training period of two weeks the sensors collect information about the inhabitants’ behavior patterns and learn their habits.

The systems can be programmed to alert family members to changes in:
• Sleeping patterns
• Eating habits
• Bathroom visits
• Walking speeds

After the training period, deviations from the recognized patterns will trigger alerts that are sent to family members. If sensors near the refrigerator or cupboards aren’t triggered during expected times, the system will alert family members that the senior may not be eating, for example.

Studying senior living and technology

At Georgia Tech, researchers have set up a variety of IoT sensors and devices in a living lab called the Aware Home, so they can study the effectiveness of technology to facilitate independent living for seniors.

In the Aware Home, sensors installed in the stove detect when it has been left on unattended. Unattended stoves are the top cause of fires in seniors’ homes.  An alert is sent to the owner’s smart watch to let them know the stove is on, and lights and sounds at the door will alert the resident if they try to leave.

A long hallway in the Aware Home has sensors that are equipped with gait-sensing technology. These can identify when the homeowner’s walk has changed, and family can be alerted if this indicates the resident may be at risk of a fall or other health issues.

Some of these new technologies include Inirv, a system able to control a stove remotely and turn it off if forgotten about. There is also a clock called the Reminder Rosie capable of helping the forgetful and, the Medminder automatic medication dispensers.

There is no question that this is a growing segment of the smart home market, and the options available for complete home living systems and individual devices will only grow with the increasing demand.