Washington Post: Seniors Cautious About Smart Tech’s Impact on Aging in Place

While new forms of smart home technology including web-enabled cameras, digital voice assistants and automated systems could make the process of aging in place easier for a lot of American seniors, some of those seniors are vocal about their concerns related to an ability to live independently with technology that has surveillance capabilities over their movements and actions. This is according to a report published late last week in the Washington Post.

“Smart home technology has long been used by caretakers to monitor older adults,” the report explains. “Cameras you can watch from anywhere are among the most common, but there are also sensors for detecting movement, remote monitoring for climate controls and power outlets as well as voice-activated screens and speakers. With the right setup, someone can see if a relative has fallen or let them know they left the stove on.”

That ability for a family member or caregiver to check in on a loved one could be a double-edged sword for some seniors, however, since they may not often be aware of moments when they’re being monitored. The issue is compounded by a lack of understanding certain seniors may have about the devices themselves, the report reads.

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“[T]he devices, many of which grew out of security and surveillance systems, can take privacy and control away from a population that is less likely to know how to manage the technology themselves,” the article says. “The idea of using tech to help people as they age is not a problem, say experts, but how it’s designed, used and communicated can be. Done wrong or without consent, it is one-way surveillance that can lead to neglect. Done right, it can help aging people be more independent.”

Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing Professor L. Jean Camp explained to the Post that none of the technology providers – of which tech giants like Amazon and Google are the most ubiquitous – have “embraced really reciprocal, empowering caregiver-centric technologies,” she said. However, some companies are starting to see the market potential for gearing its existing slate of smart devices for the caregiving space, with the most visible entity in this regard being Amazon.

“In the past year alone, two tech companies announced new monitoring products aimed at aging adults that try to move away from the most invasive setups,” the article reads. “Amazon previewed Alexa Together, a $20 a month service that lets caretakers know when connected devices are being used, and has 24/7 emergency response that can be called over an Alexa device. Apple added a feature that lets people share health trends like changes in daily activity, sleep patterns or heart rate from an iPhone or Apple Watch with family members or doctors.”

In late 2020, Amazon announced the development of a new feature for its “Echo” suite of smart devices called “Care Hub,” which allows a caregiver to link their own Amazon account to that of a senior’s. If that senior accepts the invitation to connect, then the caregiver can send specific alerts — illustrated in a recent advertisement as a reminder to take a medication, for instance — and can view a high-level summary of some of the senior’s activities, including certain lights being used.

Read the article at the Washington Post, a publication the article reminds readers is owned by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.

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