Sunday, March 4, 2018

"Just How Practical Are Smart Homes & Technology For Seniors?"

Technology is moving along at a very rapid pace - too rapid for some people in fact. It wasn't that long ago that computers were a fairly new item that people had to learn, slowly acquire, and begin using. Now, so many people have at least one form of a computer that they use daily (desktop, tablet, or smartphone, for instance). Having multiple devices is quite common. Computers drive our cars, power our TVs, and do so many other behind-the-scenes tasks for us.

Project this technology both forward and backward to arrive at so-called smart homes for seniors. The technology is there. The interest is there also from the younger generations to have parents and grandparents living in a home environment that is monitored for several different criteria. What is missing that thwarts this concept or at least gives it a serious challenge is the fact that many seniors are not connected to the internet, don't want to be, and totally distrust it.

They grew up without it. It has been a very late addition to their lives. While it's OK for their children and grandchildren to be part of the computer age, many of them are just casual participants in technology - chatting with family or receiving videos and photos of their grandkids online. While some of them (not all) understand the need for computers - they like that we put a man on the moon, and that clearly would not have happened without computers - it's just not something they see as necessary for themselves. They have done perfectly well without them all of these years, thank you.

Additionally, people of any age, but especially seniors, may be a little reticent about having equipment installed in their homes that can snoop on them and their home environment - even if they did authorize and approve of it.

Seniors (especially people over the age of 75 - those in the Silent Generation and older) don't mind their children and grandchildren using computers, smartphones, and tablets. They want nothing to do with them personally, however. This is not describing everyone in this group, but a large number of them are like this.

While the concept of having monitoring devices and sensors in a home to connect the occupants with the outside world, summon emergency help when it is needed, identify obnoxious materials (carbon monoxide or smoke, for instance), seems good and valuable on the surface, the application may be a little harder. Getting people to accept them and rely on them is another matter. Just having strange devices in the home that can "spy" on them can make people feel uneasy and distrustful. It goes to their basic feeling of safety in their homes. While designed to enhance safety and security, it can actually have the opposite effect.

Smart technology may indeed help keep seniors safe in their homes, but it's a big trade-off of perceived independence toward having something monitoring what is going on. Communication is fine when they initiate it (even with cell phones or devices like Google Home or Amazon's Echo), but reporting done without their knowledge (such as by their appliances or sensors built into flooring, lighting, thermostats, or switches) may be a harder sell to achieve buy-in and acceptance.

Monitoring a person's health in the home may be something that is easier for them to accept, especially when requested or prescribed by a medical professional. They may have similar types of monitoring already, or it may be provided at the hospital or by visiting professionals. This they can understand more than having their movements and living environment monitored.

Technology is progressing forward quite rapidly. What we are aware of today may be replaced by something smaller, faster, or more advanced in a matter of months. It's possible that seniors will come to embrace certain monitoring devices if they really fall in love with how they look and understand how they operate.

The technology is there to protect people in their homes. They just may not want to use it.


Steve HoffackerCAPS, CEAC, SHSS, is a licensed Certified Aging In Place Specialist - Master Instructor and best-selling author of aging in place books. To learn about this and other programs for aging-in-place or universal design, visit or call 561-685-5555. Also, check out the "Aging & Accessibility" groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.