Article by Jamie Gold
Smart home technology has been gaining acceptance in American households for the last five years, with the pandemic doubling usage, according to research quoted in Security Infowatch in May 2021. While concerns remain, especially among older adults, users of all ages are seeing the advantages these services offer, including to their health, safety and well-being.
Health and Safety Benefits
Dr. Azizi Seixas, founding director of the Media and Innovation Lab at the University of Miami, sees many advantages technology brings to patients, including as an aid to chronic disease management; supporting healthy behaviors such as sleep, physical activity and diet; connecting and supporting older adults aging at home; detecting and capturing data in real, not contrived, settings; altering environments to make them more conducive to health and wellness; facilitating telemedicine and more personalized treatments; detecting falls and other emergencies faster, and generally simplifying life and tasks for users.
Falls and emergencies at home are key issues Ryan Herd , CEO of Caregiver Smart Solutions, a technology integration firm based in Northern New Jersey, addresses for his clients. “When our loved ones go home you have no idea what is happening, and when you ask, ‘Mom, how are you doing?’ you always get ‘I’m OK,’ but how do you know?” he shares.
Herd tracks the technologies available today and integrates systems into his clients’ homes to make independent living safer and easier. Right now, he’s bullish on proactive sensor technology for independent living. “We enable that by using tiny non-invasive sensors feeding information to an app,” he explains. This lets caregivers know if a fall has occurred, if a loved one hasn’t gotten out of bed on their regular schedule, or if there’s an issue with a door, appliance, etc. “Our loved ones don’t want to be spied on with a camera in the home, and they aren’t wearing an emergency button.” If they’ve fallen and can’t get up, Herd’s technology will quickly alert a caregiver.
Seixas points to a few widely-available innovations he’s seeing have a positive impact on wellness. “The sleep industry has taken off during the pandemic,” he observes. “Coway Smart Care Air Mattress features a built-in air purifier, humidifier, aroma dispenser, and self-dimming lights. This bedding solution will set the right environment to induce sleep,” he comments.
The physician praises digital thermostats, which can also support healthy sleep, and “Samsung’s Family Hub fridge,” which he observes, “helps families with meal planning and healthy food choices.” Seixas notes that the GeniCan, which helps build shopping lists by scanning food packages before they go into the trash or recycling bin, can be an additional meal planning tool.
Richmond, Virginia-based interior designer Jennifer Stoner regularly integrates technology into her residential projects, she reports. “We are most often asked to incorporate lighting control, audiovisual and sound technology.
One system Stoner’s technology integrator has brought to her projects is Darwin from Delos, she says. The designer likes that it incorporates water and air quality monitoring and circadian lighting to support sleep and energy. “The Darwin platform includes a ‘Dawn Simulation’ function which provides a uniquely calibrated lighting sequence that mimics the rising sun. This is definitely a more peaceful way to start your day than a blaring alarm,” she adds. “What contributes to more well-being in your day than a peaceful beginning and end?”
It’s not all wine chilling and rose-colored lighting. Seixas notes that privacy and data security can be compromised; heterogeneity across devices and a home’s network infrastructure shortcomings can lead to usage issues; some products have led to excessive blue light exposure and related sleep and headache issues; reliance on technology can impair memory and information processing capability, and some individuals suffer from technophobia, the doctor adds.
“There will be a period of adaptation which some people reach, while others may not. Health systems currently do not have training programs to increase digital literacy for their patients who could benefit from smart home technologies.” Stoner agrees that more consumer education is needed. There are so many innovations that can help them be safer and healthier. They might involve a learning curve, but those are not insurmountable for most.
Some of the biggest concerns relate to personal information being stolen or sold. Herd hears them from his older clients, he says. “We are all concerned with our privacy and where our data goes.” His approach, and that of other professional technology integrators, is to specify packages that aren’t tied to data monetization. “By choosing the correct manufacturers, encrypting the data, and using strong passwords we can protect ourselves,” he advises.
Stoner relies on one such system called Josh.ai. “Their voice activated system combines all the wired features in your home. It brings you convenience without privacy concerns; Josh promises that your data will never be sold for marketing purposes.” The designer says it is also more robust than other voice control platforms, offers better cognition for avoiding awkward moments, and integrates with devices and other popular smart home systems.
Seixas sees COVID playing a major role in smart home technology’s growth. With people spending more time doing more activities at home, particularly working, having that space be conducive to promoting good health needs to be a greater priority, he asserts. “Homes must promote emotional well-being and physical health. Smart homes are often used to increase efficiency and reduce stress. One key use case is improving air quality through monitors and HVAC systems. This can tackle the air we breathe and reduce exposure to air pollutants and viruses.”
Stoner also expects to see smart home technology usage increase post-pandemic. “It seems like our homes should be at the top of the list of areas where we would expect improving technology. And I believe that platforms with voice control will also help those in their later years be less intimidated,” she predicts. “Our older clients are more likely to embrace all these wonderful enhancements if they can simply talk in natural language to technology instead of worrying about which button to push.”
“The Media and Innovation Lab, since the pandemic, has pushed forward several innovations around remote health monitoring with the use of digital technology devices,” says Seixas. “We launched our remote health monitoring solution called The MIL Box.” In addition to wearables, the Box includes such smart home technology as a smart scale, light monitor, air quality tracker devices, and sound/noise monitor to track the health status of individuals.”
Stoner expects to see more technology innovation in kitchens and baths, she says. This will likely include hydroponic gardens for growing food sources, features to create bathroom spa retreats, like smart steam showers and advancements in sanitization technology for surfaces and air pollutants.