Advances in smart homes and devices
Artificial Intelligence, or AI, is the latest technology to make headlines. Its ability to create human-like conversation and interaction is what sets it apart from existing computer systems.
Our homes are becoming more intelligent with AI-powered devices controlling our lights, thermostats and more. Such residences (often dubbed “smart homes”) are characterized by the ability to remotely control the lighting, security, temperature and other amenities from a smartphone or computer, as well as by simply speaking commands while at home.
The growing popularity of smart appliances extends these abilities even further, enabling one to see who’s at the front door, preheat the oven or know what’s in the fridge, for example, without being home.
Smart senior living
There is a growing area of this market tailored to the needs of older adults, according to Dr. Subodha Kumar, a professor at the Temple University Fox School of Business.
For example, there are AI-based systems that track a person’s movement using motion detectors and can calculate whether that person has a high probability of falling. In the event of an accident, the system can notify first responders.
“It can inform the right people, or even your emergency contact, and it also alerts…the [impacted] person, so they can take corrective action,” Kumar said.
He explained that the system functions similarly to sensors on cars that alert a driver when they’re drifting from their lane or there’s someone in their blind spot.
Some senior care communities are using such sensors to detect residents’ movements and notify staff if there’s a long period of inactivity, said Joan Lipman Green, founder of Maryland-based Innovative Speech Therapy. Her business offers online classes and webinars to help older adults and care providers stay up to date on the latest technologies and understand how to use them.
“Increasingly, there will be more use of AI enabling healthcare initiatives so that people’s needs can be met,” Green said. For example, these devices can provide support in retirement and assisted living communities amid staffing shortages, and they can help reduce the need for aides on an individual level.
On the other hand, technology “won’t replace [care providers]. Everybody needs to be around people,” Green added.
Kumar said that in its current state, AI is “a human-machine collaboration rather than human replacing machine or machine replacing human,” particularly when it comes to the hands-on, empathetic work of nurses and aides.
As devices monitor daily activity and routines within the walls of one’s home, the data they are collecting is increasingly personal.
Kumar said that to protect user’s privacy, laws should be more “explicit” to foster accountability among companies operating smart home technologies.
“Rather than being worried [about new technologies], we need to think about how to embrace them as a society,” Kumar said. “At the same time, I think the lawmakers need to worry not only about making regulations, but also preparing our workforce.”
Right now, smart homes are complicated, with different products controlling specific elements of the home. The technology is in the early stages and is still limited, but some devices are beginning to centralize the technology, Kumar said.
Getting started with new tech
Green believes that AI-powered devices have potential to not only improve safety and health for older adults, but also help them stay connected with loved ones and complete everyday tasks.
“I think that tech can be very overwhelming to get started with on your own,” she said. “But with the right kind of supports, I think absolutely everybody has the ability to benefit from tech, but it may need to be customized and simplified to meet their needs.”
Seniors’ interest in the latest devices is climbing. A study from the Pew Research Center found that in 2021, 61% of adults aged 65 and older owned a smartphone, compared to 13% in 2012, and 44% owned a computer or tablet, up from 6% in 2012.
Whether you’re ready to put your faith into an AI-powered fall management solution, use a smart speaker to make a grocery list, or take a technology class at your local library, plugging into the latest gadgets can open doors for both engagement and greater safety.