As consumers continue to integrate connected devices and services ever more deeply into their day-to-day lifestyles, they are beginning to bring the same expectation and desires to their health and well-being.
The smart home is becoming the healthy home, and this is particularly true when it comes to the senior living sector, as the preference for “age in place” has increased dramatically in recent years.
Add to this the fact the U.S. population is getting older. Presently, there are roughly 50 million Americans over the age of 65, according to the U.S Census Bureau, and that number will rise sharply over the next decade. By 2030, the Census Bureau estimates there will be 78 million Americans over the age of 65 – that means one in every five residents of the U.S. population will be retirement age.
Health & Wellness Tech
While most of the headlines surrounding the smart home/smart tech space have been centered on how the technology was making home life more entertaining, more fun, and more energy-efficient, it’s time to make room on the marquis that it is also helping people live healthier lives.
Health and wellness have now become a major factor for builders and technology integrators, as well as homeowners. There are a plethora of smart home devices that put the health and well-being of the homeowner top of mind.
Among the categories that are clearly pushing health benefits over all else are:
Voice command is no longer simply about having Alexa settle a few arguments or play your favorite songs. Today, smart speakers can control other smart devices in the home so turning on lights, running the smart vac, controlling the temperature…even placing online orders, can all be done simply via voice command.
As a voice-controlled home automation systems company, Josh.ai knows all about how using AI-driven voice commands to control all the devices in a home is about more than just convenience.
“Voice control offers an elegant solution for those who may have challenges with mobility or poor vision. Why risk getting up to adjust a light switch or a thermostat, and risk falling in the process, if someone with these sorts of limitations doesn’t have to? Voice control mitigates risk for the elderly and will enable them to live independently for longer than they would otherwise,” explained Josh.ai Co-Founder and CEO, Alex Capecelatro.
Let There Be Circadian Light
Smart lighting today is all about how the color temperature of the lights adjusts naturally to keep your body in its natural rhythm. The pitch here is that smart lighting can touch every part of the homeowners’ lives in some very positive ways. This fairly new trend in home lighting is also called Circadian lighting or Human-Centric lighting and represents an entirely new approach to lighting design.
The technology’s ability to simulate daylight and dusk and develop a deeper connection with the outdoors claims to help reduce stress as light has a big effect on our circadian rhythm and regular lighting interferes with this. This can ultimately cause myriad health problems. Human-Centric lighting is programmed to give you the correct amount of light at the correct color temperature to work in harmony with your circadian rhythm instead of against it.
“The objective of Human-Centric Lighting is to enhance the human experience, in particular, to satisfy our craving for natural sunlight. This involves advanced lighting solutions that simulate the shifting color spectrum and intensity of light throughout the day,” explained Liana Frey, Vice President of Marketing, Ketra, a lighting technology specialist. “This simulated natural light seamlessly blends with daylight, so you can start your day with bright, energizing light, and wind down with the same warm evening glow that you would experience outdoors as the sun starts to set.”
So, when those lights finally do begin to go dark, it’s time for bed, and as everyone knows, a good night’s sleep is paramount to good health and a productive day. Today’s smart mattresses and bed bases use all manner of new sleep tech such as advanced temperature technology to create a personalized and responsive microclimate. Smart mattresses also automatically adjust firmness as the user moves during the night and also integrate sleep tracking technology and/or app-based controls that allow users to monitor how long they sleep and how often they wake up each night.
The (Really) Smart Appliance
While the refrigerator got busy a while back letting homeowners know what they were low on, what was losing its freshness, and so on, the rest of the kitchen has finally caught up. Smart ovens and microwaves now feature barcode scanning capabilities to download cooking instructions, as well moisture sensors to avoid drying out food, along with various voice command options. Sharp recently introduced their Superheated Steam Countertop ovens, which the company claims, steams cook food with tastier, healthier results.
Add auto-adjusting countertops that adjust to accommodate the varying heights of people in the house and that’s just the tip of the iceberg in today’s smart kitchen. All this tech ultimately leads to healthier cooking outcomes for the more nutrition-conscious consumers.
Smart Vacs Go Beyond Merely Cleaning
The smart or robo vacuum has evolved far beyond simply cleaning the floor as today some models feature simultaneous vacuuming/mopping ability with advanced laser-based home mapping, object identification and avoidance, and remote monitoring that brings some peace of mind to homeowners. Toss in the ability to remove almost all of the bacteria on floors and these things are vacuuming up stress as well as dust and dirt and making the interior of the home far less unhealthy.
Take a Breath, It’s Healthy
Homeowners really don’t want to know the actual amount of unhealthy things they are breathing into their lungs that are circulating around the air in their homes (spoiler alert: according to the EPA, the levels of indoor air pollutants are often 2 to 5 times higher than outdoor levels. Told you you didn’t want to know).
Thus, it’s no surprise that whole-home air purifiers are all the rage as they help reduce the number of pet allergens and odors accumulating in the home. The units today are designed to handle the tasks of purifying the air throughout your entire home, filtering out pet allergens and other indoor air pollutants like dust, mold, and more.
Some smart homes are also being built with sensors that, when high levels of allergens are detected, will adjust your air filtration system to literally clear the air when it’s most necessary.
“It is great to hear that many technology integrators are adding Wellness/Healthy Home design to their list of services. We at the Home Technology Association welcome this trend and it is great to see companies like Delos and Pure365 reaching out to the home technology integrator community,” said Josh Christian, CEO, of Home Technology Association. “Staying as healthy as possible is on the minds of everyone today, and making our homes a safe refuge from any unnecessary toxins and pollutants is something we should all strive for. Integrating circadian rhythm lighting, air, and water purification systems and other home wellness technologies into the home’s infrastructure opens up the way for early design coordination between architects, interior designers, and home technology integrators.”
While all of the above is great news for all smart home consumers, the senior market is grabbing some of this healthy smart tech spotlight today as well.
AARP finds consumers over 50 are helping fuel the demand for smart home technology, such as home monitoring, security systems, home assistants, and smart appliances. Many find the products are convenient and give them peace of mind. And this market is ripe with opportunity as AARP tells us although many adults ages 50 and older are interested in buying smart home safety technology, just 10 percent of older Americans are currently using these safety devices.
Worrying about how mom and dad are doing as they “age in place” is a major concern for the rest of the family, so remote monitoring is gaining steam in the smart home market of late.
“Looking towards the future, the strides our team is making on the machine learning front will go a long way in remote monitoring (for seniors). By utilizing sensors and understanding how frequently they might get up to use the bathroom, for example, technology can notify family members or caretakers of irregularities so that they know to check-in to make sure this person is alright,” added Josh.ai’s Capecelatro.
Caspar.AI is another smart home technology company focused on the senior living market as they provide a move-in-ready, smart home experience that adapts to the needs of each specific resident. Their AI-driven tech helps promote a healthy and comfortable lifestyle for seniors, ensuring they can live independently in the comfort of their own homes.
“Our technology, called CasparAdapt, builds a model of the different people’s preferences in different situations using deep co-reinforcement learning. CasparAdapt starts with reasonable defaults learned across the homes, for example, sleeping means lights off and curtains down, and cooking activity means brighter lights and thermostat to cooling,” explained Caspar CEO Ashutosh Saxena. “Now, consider sleep time when a person gets up to go to the kitchen to get water in the night. One person may want the lights to remain off, while the other person (e.
g., a senior resident) may want lights to come to a dim so he does not fall down. Caspar learns by collecting this feedback as people live in the home and thus over time starts adapting to their specific preferences.”
With roughly 30% of the US population now hitting 55+ years, and this number projected to double by 2050, Saxena sees a market where the aforementioned “age-in-place” trend will grow as well. This will put some pressure on the rest of the family, as they’ll want to know how mom and dad are handling this independence at older ages.
“Caspar AI homes enable safe, healthy, and independent living. Seniors can become inactive due to incidents such as illness or fall,” Saxena added. “Our CasparSense technology, which uses privacy-preserving learning, detects if people are sick or inactive, notifying their respective care circle. Being able to know that their parents are active can give huge peace of mind to the children.”
Sekisui House at MIT
On the other side of the world we have the Sekisui House, one of Japan’s leading home builders, and building a bridge to fuller independence for seniors is one of their central goals these days. A recent collaboration with MIT’s Institute of Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) called The Sekisui House at MIT, is centered on developing and adapting Sekisui’s “Platform House” connected home model for U.S. populations.
The Platform House — set to debut in about 100 residences in Japan this year — makes use of embedded ambient technology within every part of the house from the floor to the ceiling. The goal of all the embedded tech is to monitor inhabitant health and behavior data quietly and then use that to the benefit of the tenants.
“A surging dilemma in Japan, as well as globally, is how to keep a growing population of seniors healthy and safe at home,” says Dr. Elazer Edelman, director of IMES. “We look forward to embarking on this research collaboration with Sekisui House in order to investigate advanced wellness monitoring technologies addressing this important problem. And we think that this exciting program will enhance the education, research, and innovation mission at MIT and beyond.”
The Smart Home market continues to evolve at a breakneck pace and this evolution now includes healthier living and the ability for seniors to “age in place” more gracefully. And all of this is presenting new opportunities for the entire connected design community.
“The landscape of technology in the home is quickly evolving as we stand still in this great pause. There are more opportunities now than ever before to design spaces that will provide for both mental and physical wellbeing throughout the entire home,” concluded Jaime Restrepo, operations manager at Restrepo Innovations. ”All this technology will have to be installed by someone, and that someone will be a trusted technician with the right process and equipment.”