Guest Blog: Paul Teverson, Director of Communications, McCarthy & Stone – Home Smart Homes?

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Home Smart Homes?

To mark our 40th anniversary, we have commissioned a far-reaching report into how new smart technologies in the home are set to transform independent living for older people. Written by the Agile Ageing Alliance, a social campaigning organisation, the report is the first to look at how smart technologies are set to revolutionise how older people live at home and deliver transformative benefits to health and well-being in later life.

The report’s key concept is that the ‘Cognitive Home of the Future’ will help meet the challenges and opportunities presented by an ageing population. Almost 32 million people will be aged 60 or over in the UK by 2039 and the need for suitable living environments for older people are going to become increasingly important. The report notes that within the next 20 years, older people could well be living in an intelligent ‘Cognitive Home’ that is almost human, and which is able to assess and manage individual needs and desires.  There are a range of exciting products out there already and more are coming to market, from power suits, robotic assistants, self-stocking fridges, intuitive health care and virtual GPs which may all be provided in the comfort of the home. 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.

However, to be successful, it is essential that smart technology is designed around their needs. While there is real opportunity here, there are also barriers that need to be overcome. Firstly, there is a general under-supply of age-appropriate housing being built.  Secondly, much of the tech for older people is currently institutional in feel, and not designed with the user in mind. It needs to appeal to older buyers, remain ‘cool’, be personalised and value for money.

It also needs to be inter-operable, and older people expect transparency in their dealings with tech companies. They love companies competing for their business and do not like monopoly suppliers. Also, many older people are adverse to using tech, but this is changing rapidly. Ultimately, and to be successful, older people want suppliers to focus on them as ‘customers’, not as patients, end users, or care clients, and to design around them.

McCarthy & Stone is responding positively to the recommendations in the report and has a number of exciting activities underway. We want to see what these changes will mean for our future designs, and to help guide the housing designs of the rest of the industry.  Following this report, we will be launching a working party to look at the role of smart technology, which will report later this year.  We are already beginning to explore some of these themes in our developments.  We have electric windows, camera-door entry systems linked to TVs, 24 hour call systems, electric buggy scooter stores, wifi in our shared areas, and ‘hide and slide’ ovens.

We will also shortly be installing super-fast broadband as standard on every development.  We have trialled Bluetooth mirrors (which play music and can connect to your phone) and  electric underfloor heating is also now standard across our developments.  We are beginning a tablet-based pilot of a healthcare monitoring and communications system, which includes video / audio calling, messaging, photo / video sharing, medication reminders, automated alerts, well-being trends, daily check in, call me requests, and exercise videos.

We will also be looking at discrete wearable healthcare monitoring devices (such as fobs, bracelets and watches) which can monitor, alert, analyse and prevent future issues.  Although we don’t think tech will ever replace the need for the personal ‘human’ touch and companionship, there is certainly a role for augmenting personal support through well-designed products.

The report also supports the Government’s agenda around the ageing population and its recent Housing White Paper. The document states that Government will help older people move at the right time and in the right way to enable them to live independently for longer and improve their quality of life, at the same time as freeing up homes for other buyers and reducing costs to the social care and health systems.

Building more age-friendly housing is now a primary objective and this report supports this agenda by drawing on the know-how of a wide range of expert stakeholders to help deliver housing outcomes that are better for older people. New forms of technology and ‘big data’ present possibilities for everyone, especially older adults.  However, their impact on those in later life is relatively unexplored. This is of great interest to us, and government, particularly how they can support this age group to live better at home.  If we get this right, then there could be a revolution in how government and society looks after its ageing population.

Our aim with the report has been to summarise in one place what technology is on the horizon and consider how it could empower older adults. Looking to the future, we want technology to be inclusive – for the benefit of everyone – and ultimately to facilitate the creation of new homes that will support happier, healthier and, hopefully, longer lives.

For more of McCarthy & Stone’s work on cognitive homes, read ‘Neighbourhoods of the Future: The shape of things to come’.

Paul Teverson
Director of Communications
McCarthy & Stone

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