By: Larry Bellehumeur 
Friday, October 2nd, 2020

First, I do not want to unfairly criticize or downplay the incredible work done by staff in retirement homes and communities. Many of them could likely find more lucrative employment in other areas but have chosen to dedicate their lives (and risk them lately) in the pursuit of enhancing the lives of millions of seniors around the world.

I think there is a widespread phrase being used by seniors in many of these homes; “I want to go back home where it is safer.” The ease of which this current pandemic has tragically spread through many families makes the next round of seniors nervous, or even downright frightened. Many adult children are looking for ways to keep their parents in their own home; (or at least in the home of a loved one) longer to avoid the possibility of a future wave of the pandemic.

IoT is here to help: here are some ways that it is helping to not only keep people in their homes until later in life but to do so safely and to increase their level of independence.

 

Maybe you should get Grandma an Apple Watch.

 

I did a short video about this, and it had a lot of hits, so it is likely a common thought. Devices, such as the Apple Watch 4 and others, can obtain a lot of information that allows us to see what is going on. A possible change in resting heart rate may indicate the onset of a virus, while a difference in the activity level may show it as well.

However, the added ability of some newer devices (and their corresponding software) have taken this to a new level. The addition of advanced accelerometers can better detect falls, a lack of motion during the day can be determined to be a person unconscious, and some of the new on-board EKG and Pulse Ox meters (the latter becoming much more well known in the time of COVID) all help to alert to issues with the health of your loved ones, often when they cannot.

 

GPS alerts for higher risk loved ones

For some, it goes beyond just essential health as there is a concern about them being lost. While most of us carry smartphones and use them to give us GPS based information, many seniors are not as likely to carry one around. This can be dangerous as many suffering from dementia or other illnesses may become forgetful and wander off.

GPS based wearables that focus more on this crowd are becoming more readily available and advanced. Some allow for the automatic answering of the call on the wrist, allowing them to hear a comforting voice. Alerts can also be sent to let you know when they have gone a little far from home- so, no signs for them going to the mailbox, but one if they get on the bus to go somewhere unexpectedly.

 

Keeping an eye on them without spying

There is always a balance between being observant and being intrusive. Want to know exactly what is going on at their house? Just cover the place with video cameras and microphones that will do the trick. Unfortunately, no one wants to have “big brother” (or in the case “big children”) watching them, so most will object to such a setup. However, merely knowing if a door is opened is not be enough for parents who may be at risk for leaving the stove on.

Sonar and Infrared solutions work on the idea of knowing just enough of what is going on to be helpful while not being overly intrusive. They can alert to an excessive heat source, which may indicate a fire or a cold source, showing a window being left open in the winter. They can go on step further, with the introduction of Artificial intelligence into the mix. By detecting patterns, a solution could let you know if Grandma, who always comes down for her morning tea at 8 am, has not made it down by 10 am.

 

Did you remember to take your pills?

Take this one before dinner with water, take this one after dinner and take this one after watching four episodes of “Jeopardy” … there are so many variables that there is no wonder people get confused, especially when taking many different medications.

The first way to help here is automated reminders through smart pillboxes. The box will send an alert, first to the person and then to a family member if a medication is overdue. However, overtaking of medicine can also be a concern. For this, we have smart pill bottles. The bottles can alert if the pace that pills are taken is too fast before an overdose happens.

 

Driving aids

Is it time to have “the chat” with Mom and Dad about their driving? This is always one of the most challenging conversations you can have as no one wants to give up their freedom. Automated solutions can make this conversation just a little less awkward. By showing them the data from their driving, you can see patterns and trends that show them it is time to pass over their keys.

 

Ring, Nest and Ecobee

I am sure that there are a dozen companies that can be here, but the overall idea is how smart home solutions can help automate many things in their home and alert to urgent situations. Smart doorbells allow them to answer the door without getting up. Smart Thermostats are great for maintaining temperature in their home to enable them to be both comfortable and reduce their HVAC costs. More pressing, though, is how smart detectors (both for CO2 and smoke) can provide you with an alert when they go off, to allow to prevent a bad situation from getting worse.

 

In-home health care

At some point, everyone needs some health care services, whether it is for an on-going issue or recovering from a major one (like a heart attack). In-home solutions help get people home faster and allow them to stay there safely.

In-home monitoring solutions are ideal for allowing patients to return home a few days before they usually would have. These can be set up by in-home teams and provide around the clock monitoring of lower-risk items. It also is cheaper for the healthcare system, so win-win all around.

For regular on-going care, IoT solutions can also help. By automating the process, IoT makes care more affordable and safer. This includes allowing for lower cost record keeping, better interaction with family members and overcoming some of the common language barriers with many front-line workers.

In short, IoT can help to keep people in their homes longer, which is both what they want and likely a way to keep them safe.