How technology can merge with a beautiful aesthetic to help those with -- specific needs remain safe and comfortable in their own homes
You’ve probably heard the term "aging in place" — a catch-all phrase that often refers to specific technologies and hardware that allow seniors to remain in their homes for longer periods of time, perhaps even putting off the need for assisted living care. The term has given way to the more inclusive "living in place," a phrase that covers tech that could help literally anyone with special needs.
Some of the features of these homes are self-evident: more grab bars in bathrooms, fewer stairs (or chair lifts or elevators if single-level living is out of the question), walk-in tubs, and so on. The look of these elements — and how they might fit into a larger design aesthetic — is often dictated both by budgets and the comfort level of the end user. (An elevator would likely be a more elegant-looking solution than a chair lift, for example — and there’s an ever-broadening variety of high-end grab bars.)
Technology for Everyone with No Aesthetic Compromises
"No matter an individual’s needs, the familiarity — and comfort — of being able to stay in their lovingly-crafted space as their abilities change is a real gift," says Crestron’s Director of Business Development JoAnn Arcenal. As Arcenal had written previously on the Crestron blog:
Technology is an incredible game-changer for helping seniors remain independent, safe, and happy in their homes. … Coupled with the principles of Universal Design, existing and emerging technologies can create an environment to maintain independence and reduce reliance on others to meet daily living needs. Many standalone gadgets have been developed for this market, such as automatic medication dispensers, and many of our existing solutions can be applied to revolutionize the living-in-place experience.
Those solutions that Crestron creates are just as effective for living-in-place situations — including wounded military veterans.
As technology advances, "smart home" solutions for living in place are becoming very nearly (if not completely) invisible. The impact they can have, however, can be profound — and even unexpected. A study from Harvard quoted by the residential tech trade publication CE Pro noted how the right lighting could reduce falls among seniors:
The results show a decrease of falling incidents by as much as 43% — however, rather than it being a case of making the environment brighter, the lighting focused on mimicking a natural circadian rhythm throughout the day. The reason for this lies in the main strength of circadian lighting: promoting a healthier sleep schedule. This in turn helped to foster a greater alertness in residents, which then led to reduced falls.
Lessons Learned from Care Facilities
Dan Sanderson, who’s the senior business development manager for residential and hospitality solutions for Crestron, has done quite a bit of work on creating these kinds of assistive technologies. A striking example is a project in the UK in which tech was transformative for the residents of an extended care home. Sanderson told the EMEA-based publication Inavate about the project:
We’ve outfitted one facility where the residents are heavily disabled or seriously injured. They've lost the use of their hands, their limbs. So we use voice control to handle control of some basic functions: lights on, lights off, shades open, shades off. The residents also have crane lifting mechanisms that come over to the bed and assist them with trips to the bathroom and so on.
Sanderson went on to note that the technology was equally important for caregivers — assistive technologies lessen some of the burden on a healthcare system facing less than full staffing. What’s more, voice control can be deployed in a manner that’s practically invisible. What Sanderson is driving at is bolstered by the results of an integration at Fellowship Senior Living in New Jersey. "By outfitting these new spaces with advanced, unified technology, we are able to eliminate any daily complications and offer our elders and team members a seamless experience," says John Dalton, principal consultant at IT Initiatives, Inc., the firm that handled the tech in that elder care facility.
The middle ground between complete assistive care and a home with zero amenities is where most of the demand lies, of course. "Tweaking the fundamentals of lighting, shading, HVAC, and power management for older or special needs individuals is a great start," says Sanderson. Lighting that comes on at low levels in the night when it’s triggered by a motion sensor, for example, is a great feature for anyone, regardless of needs.
Those motion sensors can be expanded to detect falls, too — that eliminates the need for wearable sensors (something any of us would find a bit bothersome). There are also behavioral modeling systems that can be tied to a sensor network — they’ll pick up aberrations in activity after learning what a normal baseline is for a resident. The ability of a system to not just monitor but adjust can provide other benefits — powering down lights or other electrical draws when a room’s determined to be unoccupied is a cash saver.
Medicine and More
There are a variety of other solutions that can be especially impactful in these environments, including:
Following the Principles of Universal Design
The technologies that help create living in place solutions are informed by the same guidelines that apply to the rest of a building, namely, the Seven Principles of Universal Design.