Smart Home Technology Could Revolutionize Healthcare Delivery
Do Smart Homes Mean Better Health for the Elderly and Disabled, our Most Vulnerable Populations?
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Home Care: A Complicated Challenge
Caring for the elderly and individuals with disabilities is one of the most nuanced aspects of family medicine. Thus, it is no surprise that caregivers who attend to these two groups can be more at risk for several negative conditions, including psychological breakdown. A report published by Spillman et al. in 2014 reported that about 13 to 15 percent of such professionals display more symptoms of anxiety and depression. The study theorizes that this statistic might be attributed to the immense workload and high level of emotional engagement they engage with every day.
The elderly and disabled are prone to several diseases and conditions, which makes their convenient care extremely difficult. Often, the caregiver is required to go into their homes and check on them as often as possible. This is a timely process that frequently reduces productivity. That factor and more are some of the reasons for the creation of smart home technologies.
Smart homes’ concept has evolved as a solution to several challenges associated with connecting things to the internet over a common IP. These smart homes are powered by AI and IoT (AIoT) to enhance patient monitoring and more. Although they are relatively new, there is now an increased interest in their capabilities for establishing structures and mechanisms to help patients and their providers in streamlining treatment.
What is a Smart Home?
A smart home, as described by Chan et al. (2009), is a residence fully equipped with technology capable of monitoring its inhabitants and/or encouraging independence and good health maintenance. A smart home is an emerging technology that reduces the hospitalization and institutionalization of elderly and disabled patients while facilitating 24-hours-based treatment plans directly in their homes. The residence is fitted with smart devices powered by the Artificial Intelligence of Things (AIoT) aimed to improve their treatment non-obstructive way, thus allowing greater independence, maintaining good health, and preventing social isolation.
Smart homes are adorned with sensors, actuators, and biomedical monitors that interact with the patient, gather information about their health, and send it to a centralized database where a physician can easily observe what is happening without leaving the hospital. Please note that smart home devices extend beyond the physical house; other utilized technology includes wearables and implants that can monitor patients even when they leave their homes.
How Smart Home Technology is Transforming the Landscape of Healthcare
With the world population of seniors increasing every year, the necessity to improve homecare has been on the increase. Statistics from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Population Division show that the worldwide population of seniors (80 and above) is expected to increase from 8.5 to 17% by 2050 due to an overall decline in fertility. This means we will have more elderly to care for while the population of young people who practice medicine declines.
At the time of the writing of this article, there is a scarcity of doctors. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) predicts that the United States will face a shortage of between 54,100 and 139,000 physicians by 2033. This could be exacerbated by an increased number of specialists (at least 2 out of 5) headed for retirement in the next decade.
While smart homes are mostly centered on assisting the aged and disabled, they can also come in handy in assisting other members of society. Some who could benefit are:
- Patients engaging in virtual visits with physicians;
- Those living in areas with inadequate healthcare delivery;
- People requiring help with performing personal care activities (like bathing, getting dressed, toileting, and eating) and instrumental care activities like laundry, dealing with medication, and cooking healthy meals);
- Patients suffering from chronic diseases and require constant monitoring;
- Individuals who live alone and are incapable of seeking help during emergencies like myocardial infarction, strokes, falls, and unconsciousness.
The role smart homes could play in promoting family health cannot be overstated. They bring a new level of effectiveness in gathering data, monitoring responses to certain medications, and even reporting emergency cases as quickly as possible. This reduces the need for caregivers’ physical presence, thus releasing them to focus on other aspects of their profession. Smart homes will also improve the level of independence enjoyed by disabled and aged people, which will allow them to feel more confident in their abilities and more accepted in their communities.
Various Smart Home Projects Around the World
The Aware Home Research Initiative (AHRI) is a 3-story, 5,040 square foot facility designed in 1988 to enhance research while providing an authentic home environment fully automated to cater to its inhabitants’ needs.
The Aware Home is furnished with adaptable features that are programmed to take care of patients suffering from chronic conditions or age-related diseases. While the bathroom features handy rails and the doorways are wide enough to allow the free movement of wheelchairs, smart technologies and motion sensors powered by machine learning and computer vision allow family members to gain real-time information about their loved ones’ conditions and recent activities. The innovations technologies can also track medication, provide reminders, and disseminate information concerning possible drug interactions.
The University of Florida designed the Gator Tech Smart House in 2005. It is a house for the elderly and disabled that functions by utilizing environmental sensors that provide comfort, energy efficiency, and improved security and safety. There are also mobility and activity monitors, fall detection systems, reminder and prompting technologies, and an aggregation of smart devices and appliances that monitor the health and activities of the home’s residents. The Gator Tech Smart House leverages smart-based technologies like machine learning and computer vision to power the different layers of the house. Not only can family members and caregivers access valuable information about their patients, but they will also immediately know when they are in crisis.
PlaceLab is part of the House n Project initiated by MIT. It is a monitoring system that provides entertainment, controls energy expenditures, and oversees its inhabitants’ vital signs. It utilizes the technology behind wearable technologies and ubiquitous sensors to learn, interact, and improve upon overall health. The smart home system is expected to boost proactivity, energy conservation, disease management, accident prevention, and indoor air quality.
The PROSAFE project is a France-based smart home undertaking that supports autonomous living. As a multisensory home monitoring system developed within the Telecare project, this smart home helps seniors and the disabled by observing changes in their mobility to detect abnormal events.
Able to provide a complete image of an elderly person’s activities without the need for any electronic instrumentation to be worn, researchers are confident that the multisensory home system can be useful for 24-hour assessments. This will be great for seniors and physically challenged people who find wearables challenging or cumbersome to use.
The Ubiquitous Home project is a robot-based monitoring system for the elderly and physically challenged. It was designed to test the fledgling new services that are created by linking devices, sensors, and appliances through data networks. The project features a dialogue-based interface robot (Phyno) that can recognize users’ faces via computer vision and facial recognition technologies. Phyno also thoroughly records home activities. The home provides users with several automated services such as TV program recommendations, cooking recipes, and forgotten property check services.
Although smart home systems are still in the early stages of development, their potential cannot be ignored. They will improve data sharing, healthcare delivery, and overall quality of life for patients and their caregivers.
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