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Aging in Place: Building a Secure Home Environment with IoT

By Greg Kahn, President and Chief Executive Officer, Internet of Things Consortium

Numerous studies show that older Americans overwhelmingly prefer to age in place. In fact, in an AARP survey of adults 18 and over, 75 percent indicate they would like to remain in their current residence, while 77 percent would at least like to live in their community as long as possible. Only 59 percent, however, anticipate being able to stay put. Here’s why: serious questions about rising healthcare costs, personal safety, independence and more leave many doubting their own ability to create and maintain the kind of home environment necessary to support their inevitable needs. 

For older adults with medical issues, for example, part- or full-time help may be necessary in the absence of a caretaker among family or friends. Estimates vary from state to state, but the national average for in-home healthcare aides in 2019 ranged from $16-$29 per hour. It adds up quickly and can be unaffordable when round-the-clock care is required. Mobility within the home is also a top concern. Adding adaptive measures to decrease the risk of falls can be expensive, particularly when considering something as costly as a stair lift if the only sleeping options are on the second floor. 

People who live on their own may also feel increasingly disconnected without a proper support system in place. A study from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences links social isolation and loneliness with a higher risk of mortality in adults aged 52 and older. But feeling isolated can also lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease, according to the National Institute on Aging. For older adults, concerns about crime, physical abuse and financial scams are also cause for anxiety. And no wonder. Consider that seniors lose an estimated $2.9 billion annually from financial exploitation. Reported by CNBC, the number one scam targeting seniors in 2018 was impersonating the IRS, and a recent testimony from Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt indicates that one in 10 Americans age 65 or older living at home will become a victim of abuse.

For many of us who may be decades away from facing these realities, there is no doubt we have experienced tremendous benefits and convenience of IoT technologies and connected devices, from food delivery to health and wellness tracking. Now consider the implications of these technologies in the hands of seniors who wish to age in place. In healthcare alone, innovation has been nothing short of lifechanging. In addition to the introduction of sensors that can measure and adjust temperature, humidity and detect the presence of carbon monoxide, new IoT devices track motion—or the lack of it—and can alert first responders in the case of a fall or unusually and uncharacteristically long periods of inactivity from a person or persons inside the home. But that’s just the beginning. With healthcare and safety a top priority, promising applications and IoT devices have been developed to assist with everything from medication dispensing to monitoring glucose levels:

  • Smart pill bottles: Internet-enabled pill boxes contain sensors that send data to the cloud regarding time of cap opening, closing and medication removed, then compare this with the patient’s schedule to avoid errors. Some devices use changing colors to indicate when medication is to be taken and when it has been dispensed and send reminders via text message, email or automated phone calls. 
  • Wearable glucose monitors: A range of wearable devices and apps now allow diabetic patients to check their glucose levels with a simple scan rather than a finger prick. With continuous monitoring capabilities, they can track patterns and enable remote sharing of data with their healthcare providers. 
  • Blood pressure monitors: While some digital blood pressure monitors measure from the wrist, the most reliable and accurate include a smart device and upper arm cuff that, utilizing Bluetooth, connects to an iOS or Android smartphone, tablet or smartwatch. Some keep digital records, with the option to email results to a doctor or clinic. 
  • Mobility solutions: According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, arthritis is the leading cause of disability in the U.S., with more than 54 million people afflicted at an annual cost of $140 billion in medical care. Arthritis can limit simple tasks often taken for granted such as twisting knobs or grabbling handles to open doors, but IoT devices are quickly helping to change that. Smart locks, for example, use fingerprint keypads to provide keyless access and provide all the security of a conventional lockset. Battery-powered wireless key fobs also enable remote access without traditional keys. Even voice assistants can be extremely helpful when commanded to set timers on light switches, activate or shut off appliances, call first responders and repair technicians among other things.

Beyond healthcare, smart devices show great potential in improving home security—and peace of mind —through wireless cameras and sensors that monitor and detect everything from smoke and fire to visitors approaching the front door. Some provide remote viewing access to authorized family or caregivers via their smartphones. Of course, the path is not yet completely clear nor the road ahead smooth. Today, many products and platforms are proprietary and based on different protocols that prevent devices from communicating with each other seamlessly. Ensuring interoperability of IoT devices, applications and services across the spectrum is critical—so is ease of set up and use. Even for those of us steeped in the tech and IoT space, building a connected home environment can be daunting. 

The good news is that more companies designing connected products and services for the home are paying attention and willing to work together to solve some of these more pressing challenges. At the close of 2019, a major industry announcement was made by Apple, Amazon, Google and the Zigbee Alliance, which have joined forces to create a working group that intends to develop and promote the adoption of a new IP-based connectivity standard for the smart home. It’s a good start and hopefully a sign of what is to come in the months and years ahead. Moving forward, where and how well people age will most certainly require the deliberate and collaborative effort of all stakeholders—public and private—committed to thoughtfully designing an inclusive road map if we are to achieve long-term success and impact.

About Greg Kahn

Greg Kahn

Greg Kahn is president and CEO of the Internet of Things Consortium (IoTC) and one of the most connected and engaged members of the Internet of Things (IoT) community. At the helm of IoTC NEXT: The Connected Future Summit, a first-of-its-kind industry event launched in 2019 in New York City, he is uniting foremost brand executives, leading technologists, investors and top media to address the challenges of a connected world.

With more than 20 years of experience working in the media and technology industries at well-established companies such as Viacom, Publicis Groupe and Omnicom, Greg established IoTC in 2016, using his influence and remarkable network to build a premier IoT group focused on driving the industry forward. Today, the pre-eminent business development association serves dozens of companies within the IoT space and covers five core areas of IoT including smart cities, home automation, wearables, connected cars and retail transformation, with a renowned roster of members including Verizon, Comcast, T-Mobile, Mastercard, Ericsson, Procter & Gamble, Nestle, ADT Security, LG Electronics, Cox, Whirlpool, Bank of America, SwissRe and over 30  startups. 

Prior to IoTC, Greg served as Chief Business Development Officer for Meredith Corporation, the leading media and marketing company reaching 185 million American consumers every month. A top IoT advisor to startups, he is a regular keynote speaker and moderator at industry-leading events such as the Consumer Electronics Show, Mobile World Congress and Internet of Things World and has been named one of the Top IoT influencers by Huffington Post, Inc. Magazine, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and The Internet of Business. 

A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, Greg earned his MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Management.