Twilight zone: how smart tech will transform retirement homes

February 27, 2017 / Isla MacFarlane
Twilight zone: how smart tech will transform retirement homes

Almost 32 million people will be aged 60 or over in the UK by 2039. But what sort of living environment do older people face when they leave the workplace and embark on the next chapter of their lives?

McCarthy & Stone commissioned a report into how smart technologies in the home could transform independent living for future older generations.

Neighbourhoods of the Future, authored by the Agile Ageing Alliance (AAA), concludes that within the next 20 years older people are likely to be living in an intelligent ‘Cognitive Home’ that is almost human, and which is able to assess and manage individual needs and desires.

The report indicates how future retirees are open to the idea of a cognitive and empathetic home with human qualities. They also anticipate smart non-intrusive, secure connections with friends, family, GPs and/or carers who keep an eye on those who look after them. They expect transparency in relationships and information. They look out for value for money.

They also want IT companies to think about consumers’ service experience and the journeys they go on. They love people competing for their business and do not like monopoly suppliers. They are getting used to and want more cool tech and, perhaps most importantly of all, they want providers to focus on them as ‘customers’, not as patients, end users, or care clients.

Some features of the retirement home of the future include:

Keeping agile and robots providing domestic support

The introduction of assistive bodysuits and exoskeletons will remove the strain of undertaking tasks around the house and in the local environment for older adults.

Intelligent walking aids that combine intuitive sensors and e-drive functionality will support those keen to get about, and contact carers if someone falls, while the advent of a personalised mobility assistive robot could see it programmed to provide domestic service within the home.

Safe and well

Specific health-related concerns, such as the effects of dwindling hearing or sight loss, or the growth of conditions such as dementia, will be supported through ‘sensory-loss’ technologies that make homes safer, easier to manage, lighter and more adaptable.

Sensitive design solutions using enabling technologies will help prevent incidents from occurring and address, for example, cookers being left on, baths overflowing or people becoming confused about their whereabouts.  Our personal digital assistant may help us to self-diagnose, sparing trips to the GP, or we may be able to talk to our doctors.

‘Holorportation’ may allow users to see, hear, and interact with others remotely as if both are present in the same physical space, via the use of 3D cameras.

Home Smart Home

The report explores how ‘cognitive living clusters’ will provide an energy efficient solution.  Constructed through the integration of unconventional building fabrics with a preinstalled technical membrane, the homes will be independent from external energy supply requirements, and will even be able to produce additional energy to feed into the grid.  Technology will be able to sense the target room temperature, pressure and lighting to create the right environment.  And as for entertainment, we won’t need our TV or tablets as programmes may be beamed directly onto our retinas or glass eye wear.

Flexibility is essential

Homes may also increasingly become intergenerational living spaces. Co-living may become more common, with younger couples needing affordable housing and older generations nearby to offer and receive support as required. Good inclusive design and technology can help to create modern, flexible spaces that can be adapted in the event that adult children need to care for frail parents.

The future is closer than we think

Ian Spero, founder of the Agile Ageing Alliance which has been leading the Neighbourhoods of the Future project, said, “Some of the ideas covered in our report could be mistaken for science fiction, but they are all based in reality. In the words of science fiction author William Gibson: The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.

“If housing providers are willing to listen and act, we can look forward to the growth of a new breed of smarter homes in our Neighbourhoods of the Future. Enabling our older selves to enjoy more meaningful, healthy and creative lives, which will in turn facilitate life affirming opportunities for personal development and social engagement.”

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