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What Good Is Smart Home Technology, Anyway?

One startup shows how the connected home changes senior living communities and more


Part of the Aging and Innovation Special Report

(Editor’s note: This content is provided by HoneyCo Homes, a Next Avenue sponsor.)

The most complicated thing on earth isn’t high-technology, it’s family dynamics. A weekend with the in-laws, or a Thanksgiving dinner will provide all the evidence needed. And now that we’re living longer than ever before, the interests and opinions of more generations will compete for the same amount of airtime. The extended life expectancy also increases the need to coordinate long-term financial plans as families navigate mortgages, student loans and long-term care for four living generations. The good news is, there’s hope.

The hi-tech craze known as the Internet of Things (IoT) promised the Jetsons lifestyle was only moments away. The reality was decidedly underwhelming. The IoT refers to any device connected to the internet. While some companies added internet connectivity to useful home appliances such as thermostats and door locks, others addressed the less useful combination of internet, such as egg trays and the Wi-Fi juicer.

Focus on Needs, Not on Devices

There are some very useful IoT devices available that help families address the needs of multiple generations. The recommended approach to finding the right device is to identify the root causes of family stressors first, then look for a technology solution.

  • Wellness Concerns: It’s difficult to balance a full-time job, an immediate family and manage care for a parent or grandparent. If there is a dark stairwell in the home, installing a motion activated light reduces the risk of a fall. A voice intercom such as the Nucleus, can be a good way to check-in with a family member without visiting their residence. Smart locks are an effective way to grant home access to caregivers or emergency responders.
  • Limited Mobility: Simple tasks can become difficult burdens under mobility limitations. Consider a smart home automation hub such as Samsung’s SmartThings and/or a voice-controlled appliance such as Amazon’s Echo that can be set up to switch lights on or off, lock doors, set reminders and even water a garden.
  • Medications: Managing medications is a top concern of family caregivers. A connected pillbox can be a great way to gain insight into medication adherence without bothering the family member daily. These pillboxes can be simple, such as Tricella’s Pillbox, or fancy such as the HERO.
  • Monthly Bills: Home energy consumption can be volatile and difficult to manage. Smart appliances such as Google’s Nest can pay for itself in energy savings by managing HVAC routines based on user activity.

Some of these devices may be familiar, and great solutions to specific issues. But what if the need is broader than one or two specific concerns? What if, for example, mom’s goal is to live at home as long as possible, but her children worry that the home won’t provide the support she needs? The solution is to connect the individual devices to a platform that offers insights valuable to each member in the family.

The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts

While simple smart home devices can meet some goals for independent living, unless they work together they cannot address the situations that would otherwise undermine a family’s support of an older member’s decision to age-in-place. Take the motion activated light from above; its one function is to turn on the stairway light. When additional motion sensors are added in the home, the information from each sensor can be stitched together to make more meaningful insights, such as where the resident has been and how much time was spent in each room.

That’s a meaningful step toward unlocking the value promised from the IoT hype, but it’s not quite there. An analysis and alert service such as HoneyCo’s Internet of Caring Things (IoCT), completes the process. HoneyCo’s IoCT proactively alerts family members or professional caregivers of concerning activity, such as too much time at the bottom of that dark stairwell.

Game Changer

Residential care facilities were considered an unavoidable part of the transition from adulthood to elderhood. The broad sentiment was that nobody wanted to go, but we’d all end up there at some point, even if our kids forced us into it. Smart home technology is transforming this concept. The retirement communities of the future will be the homes we live in today. Care will be coordinated through the IoCT, driverless cars will shuttle members to social events, and we’ll reflect on how technology spared us from the anxieties of elderhood and allowed multiple generations to build meaningful relationships.

By Zachary Watson
Zachary Watson is the Founder & CEO of HoneyCo Homes.

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