Create a new smart home, rescue home automation systems or get support to ensure smart home systems deliver the best experience.
+44 (0) 20 7193 9691hello@bakerstone.com
Create a new smart home, rescue home automation systems or get support to ensure smart home systems deliver the best experience.
+44 (0) 20 7193 9691hello@bakerstone.com

What if we said smart technology can  make the deepest and most closely held dreams of many in society come true?

It can help the elderly among us realise the dreams of staying in their homes for longer, staving off the dreaded move to an institution and preventing it for some.

Meanwhile, it can help disabled people, who may have previously only dreamed of living independently, to do so.

Smart technology’s ability to know what we want and do it more easily and remotely could liberate many people from dependence on institutional living. As such, the concept of a smart home for elderly and disabled people holds a lot of promise.

The old adage says that ‘An Englishman’s home is his castle’. For many English women and men owning a home comes with a feeling of pride and freedom, as well as many hundreds of simple, practical benefits. Yet all of this can be lost, or not gained in the first place, thanks to a lack of ability to do certain things by oneself.

For some disabled people, living independently in one’s own home is a dream that may not be realised. Meanwhile, for aging people, losing the ability to live in their own home and having to move to an institution is a nightmare they wish to put off. Fortunately, smart technology has the potential to make the dreams of many come true while preventing the nightmares of many more.

An introduction to smart technology and independent living

The same functionalities and advantages that help smart homes provide a new level of luxury and simplicity to so many of our customers can also bring independence and self-determination to those who are less able. Smart homes for elderly and disabled people can:

Importantly, all of this can be done without making life overly complex for the homeowner and filling their home with switches. What makes a well-designed smart home truly smart is its ability to automate and simplify the control of tasks as well as the tasks themselves. As such, we prevent ourselves from simply trading one set of problems for another. We do this by  grouping tasks and creating intelligent processes where complex, highly useful outcomes can be achieved with simple, useful inputs. For example, dimming the lights, closing the blinds and alerting an emergency contact when the owner is having a migraine.

The opportunities

As a society, we have really only scratched the surface of what smart homes can do for elderly and disabled people. This is partly because smart technology is still a fairly novel concept, but also because the government and other responsible agencies have been slow to realise the potential of the new technologies.

Living independently for longer – The opportunity of a smart home for elderly people

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre

One of modern humanity’s greatest achievements has been to extend our average lifespans by a matter of several decades. This has given us longer to be productive and enjoy life. A great drawback to this massive boon has been our general failure to extend our fully functional lives by as much. Indeed, a few health advances aside, we have been able to do little to extend the length of time during which we are completely able-bodied by more than a handful of years.

 This means spending longer in bodies with limited abilities to look after themselves and live independently. Together with some social changes to the family unit, this has resulted in us spending longer in nursing homes, care homes, convalescent homes or homes for the elderly. Whatever other word you add to their name, these ‘home’ institutions don’t compare to our own independent homes, and you would be hard pushed to find someone who would prefer them.

The last great revolution in healthcare doubled our mean life expectancy from around 40 to around 80 over the last century and a half. Some say that the next great revolution must do the same for our independent, fully able-bodied lifespans. A big part of this is the amount of time during which we are able to live in our homes as we like without depending on support that limits our freedom severely and costs the state significantly.

Smart homes for the elderly among society are likely to be a sizeable part of this advancement. Their potential to handle both the physical and mental challenges of aging by handling tasks’, control, communication and management makes them ideal tools in the battle against increasing dependence.

As a society, we are familiar with technologies that make physical tasks easier. What is more novel is the ability of smart homes to do this while also making task control and management mentally easier. Indeed, in the past, physical assistance through technology has often led to complex and non-intuitive control systems that only increase mental challenges. This can make life even harder for someone facing the mental challenges of aging, such as Alzheimer’s . Today, we can make physical and mental independence easier at the same time.

A first chance to live independently – The opportunity of a smart home for disabled people

Technology has been gradually empowering disabled people to live free and independent lives for over a century. Many people who would once have had to live in an institution or care home, or at least at home with family in the past are now able to be self-sufficient and self-determinate. Two important things that we will discuss more in the second part of this blog.

Unfortunately, this is not true for all people. Many of the people who have the power to make decisions for themselves are still waiting for the freedom to do so, and smart home technology, along with home automation can give them this freedom.

“What then is freedom? The power to live as one wishes.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero

The functions that will enable this great change  of circumstances are largely similar to those that are enabling older people to live independently for longer. The difference is that smart technology, if utilised properly, can give many people an opportunity that they have never had before to live independently.

This advancement is not a minor one, it is about giving many people a first taste of freedom.

The situation: Lots of opportunities – poor realisation

It would be easy to sit here and say ‘Great, we have the tools to make these incredible changes in society.’ However, that is only half the story. The fact is that society at large does not have the ability or the commitment to use these tools to help any but the wealthiest individuals among us. This  is true in the UK and around the world, in developed and developing countries.

As a company that specialises in premium smart home services, it would again be easy to say ‘That’s great. We’re alright, Jack.’ However, as a company that knows the incredibly potential of smart technology and cares about the wellbeing of everyone in society, especially disabled people, it is hard to discuss the potential of these advancements without mentioning that this potential is not being realised as it should be at a social level.

A recent research paper on Smarter Homes and Independent Living drafted for the UK Government had this to say:

“Despite some progress in recent decades, the adult social care system is currently unable to uphold the right to independent living. An Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) inquiry into housing for disabled people in Great Britain published in 2018 concluded that the country has a chronic shortage of accessible homes” – (2022, Policy Connect Research paper)

The paper goes on to say that smart technology has the potential to solve this problem and allow many more to live independently than ever could before. However, the Government and its associated social advancement projects do not have the resources to make this prospect a reality.

More than money, people and time

It is not just the old projecting triad of money, people and time that hold our society and many others around the world back though. An old-fashioned view of how to empower disabled people at a societal level also hampers our advancement…

The foundation: Self-sufficiency

In the latter half of the 20th century, the UK and many other developed societies around the world patted themselves on the back as they slowly supported disable people to become more self-sufficient. They could provide the basics for their survival live on their own.

In an early 20th century world where most disabled people had either been institutionalised, incarcerated or ignored to be supported by families, this was a great advancement.

The drive toward self-sufficiency that governments and social services worldwide still undertake looks old and obsolete more than half a century later though. We have enabled many people to live alone and support themselves, but does that mean much more than moving places and managing to stay alive? Life is about much more than that and part of what smart technology promises is a fuller life for those who are less able.

 

The pinnacle: Self-determination

“The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself.”
― Michel de Montaigne, The Complete Essays

Self determination is the power to make decisions for yourself and carry them out without input or control from the outside. Not all self-determinate people are self-sufficient and not everyone who is self-sufficient can achieve self-determination. .

Self-determination is the very essence of freedom.  From the American Revolution to the fight against apartheid, people have fought and died for it. Yet this drive is strangely absent from the work of many governments and social institutions to empower disabled people. You don’t have to be self-sufficient in order to be self-determined, and many people with self-sufficiency have no self-determination. There are thousands of elderly and disabled people sat in their own home looking after themselves without the realistic ability to make choices for themselves: Without real freedom.

In the past, it was understandably difficult to provide such freedom to people with serious disabilities, but smart technology’s ability to know what we want moves us much closer to the goal. That said, it is far from the first step on the ladder, which began with national electrification, through telecommunication, digitisation to wi-fi and Bluetooth. Yet as the opportunities have grown, the realisation of them has shrunk:

“The health and social care system has been slow to adopt innovations and tends to view technology as a way of managing people’s care needs – overlooking its capacity to give people greater agency, choice and control.” – (2022, Policy Connect)

New technology, including smart technology, has changed the state of affairs where  disability, age and empowerment are concerned. We have the opportunity to enable many people to make their own choices and become self-determined, even those who are not self-sufficient. Where disability limits an individual’s liberty, technology gives us a way to maximise that person’s freedom in nuanced ways.

 

Uncoupling assistance from dependence—or perhaps bundling assistance together with a richer idea of independence—changed everything for [independent living] activists, because now they could press for a whole array of products and services that would support a desirable life, one of the instrumental voices for independent living, said in 1978 that “to us, independence does not mean doing things physically alone. It means being able to make independent decisions. It is a mind process not contingent on a normal body.”

― Judith Heumann, Independent living activist, 1978

Conclusion

Today, we can provide smart homes for elderly people, we can empower disabled people in many new ways with smart devices and we can change the lives of many through home automation. By we, I mean our company, Baker Stone, but also our society as a whole.

The opportunities are incredible, giving elderly people their home lives for longer and freeing more disabled people to support themselves and make their own choices. Yet there is a lack of institutional and social focus on realising these opportunities, especially those relating to self-determination. This is something that needs to change.

The potential of smart technology is truly staggering. Now is the time to make it a reality.