The Future of Elder Care Might Be This ‘Smart’ Apartment

Aging adults could maintain their independence while still getting the care and observation they need.

By Rhonda FanningMay 18, 2015 8:14 am

It’s a concern many of us are going to come face-to-face with eventually: caring for an aging parent. One decision that often pits parent vs. child is the living situation. Older adults are often reluctant to leave their home and enter assisted living facilities. The older adults want to keep their freedom, but their children want peace of mind that someone will be watching over them.

So how do you make a decision to keep all parties content? The answer could be a ‘smarter’ home.

Researchers at UT Arlington just unveiled their model “SmartCare” apartment. It utilizes “intelligent care technology” designed to reduce risks encountered by older adults and those with disabilities who want to live independently in their own homes.

Kathryn Daniel, an associate professor and director of the Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner Program, joins the Standard to talk about the recent grand opening and how smart these apartments really are.

So how would it work?

“We have used available technology that already exists in many ways and embedded them in the environment that the person lives in so that it just tracks the activities the way a person lives,” Daniel says. “It learns what’s normal for you and then if you exceed what’s normal for you, you get to notify who you want to be flagged or notified if something’s out of line.”

Say someone woke up every day at 8:00 a.m., ate breakfast, watched their morning news shows and then went outside. But if one morning, they didn’t get up out of bed, turn on the TV or leave the house, the system would be able to notify a designated person to come check and make sure everything was copacetic.

This is a big leap from the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” emergency button that still sometimes advertise on TV. Daniel says the prototype, a sort of living lab, is equipped with all sorts of workable tech.

“The floor has pressure sensors underneath every square foot of the floor and it’s capturing your activity levels, think of it as almost capturing your GPS patterns walking through your apartment or your home.”

The floors also monitor your weight, balance and the gait of your step. There are also interactive mirrors that track the color and topography of your face each day. It looks at the changes in your body over time and the data can help determine something as invisible as the oxygen content in your blood.

Just how far off are we from having houses that track our every step? Daniels says it’s not an implausible feat, it might take a few years to catch on.

“It’s very doable,” she says. “It’s about the integration of things that already exists. Using the technology that we already have in new ways.”