By Beth Kelly
Home automation has been a mixed blessing for senior citizens and those who provide their care. Individual assistive technologies and comprehensive smart home “ecosystems” are becoming increasingly sophisticated, and they’re more capable than ever of understanding older user’s needs and capabilities.
The development of comprehensive home technology platforms – such as Apple’s HomeKit and Google’s Home – has accelerated hopes that technology’s role in senior care will continue to make rapidly meaningful strides, via the ever-widening Internet of Things (IoT).
Integrating Disparate Subsystems
Millions of seniors have adopted personal emergency response units, fitness trackers and Skype because these products have demonstrated their immediate worth in enhancing quality of life for both users and caregivers. Most of these “early adopters” are engaging with the devices in a piecemeal fashion. They aren’t yet tying them together into integrated systems.
Apple released the HealthKit app and framework for iOS in 2014 to make it simpler for users to access all the health and fitness-related data tied to their mobile device. With Apple “Health”, their iPhone app that works with HomeKit, the company attempted to address one facet of the fragmentation problem, because the lack of a single user interface restricts the Internet of Things as it now stands.
Still, a lack of third-party compatible devices, sluggish performance, and software bugs continues to plagued this solution. Although these initial problems were covered widely by the press, and some of the deficiencies were later corrected, HomeKit failed to catch on with seniors or caregivers. Concerns about possible HIPAA violations, the possible compromising of personal information and the simple fact that most senior citizens don’t yet own a compatible smartphone have largely limited HealthKit’s adoption.
For even the most tech-savvy seniors, the reality doesn’t live up to the hype – at least, not yet.
Using the Apple HomeKit architecture as an example, we can see how the IoT technology market is beginning to take steps to deepen the integration of connected tools into the everyday reality of seniors and their homecare helpers. We can also where it still needs to improve.
Becoming Mainstream, Safely
Manufacturers have shown a keen interest in making their products HomeKit-compatible, and there are now more than 100 such devices available for purchase. Nevertheless, in order for seniors to fully benefit from the convenience of tools like automatic learning thermostats, security camera systems and smart lighting, prices need to come way down and systems need to become more comprehensible to the layperson. Additionally, for fluid ease-of-use to truly be possible, all these tools must be able to “talk” to one another and communicate efficiently. For HomeKit, integration occurs within the Apple hardware. Other competitors, like Nest, have their systems set up so that integrations take place within the cloud.
Security Concerns — While cloud-based IoT platforms give consumers more device connection options, they also open up security vulnerabilities that have already been exploited in distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks against major U.S. websites. Devices that “talk” over the cloud put large amounts of sensitive data at risk, because not everyone has a secure wireless connection. And if the cloud service is not hosted locally, there is even more potential for problems.
Technology to the Rescue — Apple’s focus on securing the Home hub makes it more difficult for hackers to attempt to open a garage door, turn off an appliance, or worse. They company’s HomeKit security features, and the easy-to-use of its Home app, promise to help increase home automation value for seniors.
According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, people 65 years of age or older were 14.5% of the population in 2014, going to 21.7% by the year 2040. Their care weighs heavy on America’s frayed healthcare infrastructure and already-worn family members. If we don’t see meaningful changes from within our health systems, then sensible and cost-effective assistive technologies in the form of home automation and IoT devices may help address the growing need.
About the Author
Beth Kelly is a freelance writer and blogger living in Chicago, IL. She’s become passionate about healthcare and technology issues, and how the two can intersect to make life easier for everyone. In her free time she is an avid gardener, freelance photographer and lover of silent films. Follow @bkelly_88 on Twitter.
Home automation can help improve the comfort, safety and convenience of seniors aging in place, so we’ve posted several articles on this topic. But we’re often critical of industry pundits and unwarranted marketing hype that sets unreasonable expectations. Here are some of our favorites.
- The Elusive Smart Home, 2015
- Home Automation and Home Health Care, 2014
- Apple to enter Home Automation market?, 2014
- Make Remote Monitoring Simple, 2014
- Bluetooth versus ZigBee and Z-Wave, 2014
- Improving the Internet of Things, 2014
- What’s holding up the Internet of Things?, 2013
- The Internet of Things: Prediction, 2013
- Brianna’s Smart House, 2013
- WSU shares Smart Home technology with the world, 2013
- Caregivers and the “Smart” Homes of Tomorrow, 2012
- What’s new in Smart Home technology?, 2012
- Sensor Network to Protect the Elderly, 2012
- Will Healthcare Lead The Future of Smart Homes?, 2012
- The Smart Refrigerator & Smart Medical Device, 2012
- Wireless remote control of door locks, 2012
- Smarter Homes for Home Healthcare, 2011
- 10 Hot Home Automation Trends, 2011
- Future of Home Automation (market research), 2011
- UPnP Forum wants TVs to make you Healthier, 2011
- How is Technology Affecting the Way we Live at Home?, 2011
- Home Healthcare products shown at Electronic House Expo, 2011