By Simon Buddle, Future Ready Homes.
Life speeds up as one gets older. In ’76, the long hot summer, I was twelve and it was indeed a very long and very hot summer. My only worries were if there might be a shopping trolley below the water under the bridge that I repeatedly jumped off, and whether the inner tube, that I spent most of the day lounging in on the river, would survive the same bridge jump. We stole strawberries from the surrounding fields for food and got a bottle of water from the stand pipes in the streets. Life in the countryside was great as a child, nothing to worry about, not a care in the world.
Fast-forward forty years and the same cannot be said; I worry for my own children, my body aches and protests just looking at gym adverts, and the common cold seems to hang about for weeks rather than days. I worry that every ailment may be the beginnings of something much more sinister. My own mother, still fit and healthy but spending more and more time in waiting rooms of various NHS establishments, is the cause of much conversation and angst.
A recent CEDIA report, ‘CEDIA Size and Scope: 2016-17 UK Residential Custom Installation Industry’, suggested that only 12% of its dealers had installed any sort of home health or assisted living technology. Further on, it stated that 56% had no plans to offer such technology in the future.
What is assisted living?
Is assisted living a market we should be looking at and, indeed, are we the right people to serve this marketplace? The Definition of assisted living is ‘a system of housing and limited care that is designed for senior citizens who need some assistance with daily activities but do not require care in a nursing home.’
It’s probably important to differentiate this from Tele Health Care. This is an active monitoring service designed for those who may need immediate medical help and therefore require systems that are both robust and permanently connected to service providers.
There is another area known as the ‘Just checking’ section, that sits after the ‘worried well’ but before assisted living.
How we can help
We can most certainly help people in all these areas using technology such door entry phone systems connected to phones, bio adaptive lighting, and simple and convenient methods to control heating. Cameras and motion detectors are an easy way to ensure both the safety and security of ageing parents. I like the idea of just checking. This is no more than a technical step forward from you picking up the phone and saying ‘Hi, just calling to see how you are’.
My Nest camera sends a notification to my phone when the dog wanders up the hallway. I’d be very happy to receive the same notification that let me know my mother was pootling about in her home. Automated heating controls triggered by motion sensors would help both my mother-in-law and my partner and me. Nanna is constantly worried about her energy bills and as a result, constantly turns off the radiators. Unfortunately, with failing memory, she forgets to turn them back on when it gets cold. This then leads to an emergency call to us complaining that the heating has broken. We need to ‘pop over’ to find out if it is simply the radiator valves or a problem with the boiler. I know we can solve all those issues technically. Admittedly, it doesn’t make up for chatting with Nanna for half an hour over a couple of Digestive biscuits.
Assisted living requires a holistic approach, and ideally building would be designed from the outset to accommodate the needs of an ageing population. Indeed ‘A Guide for Assisted Living: Towards Lifehome 21’ by RIBA is well worth a read as it looks at the built environment and the use of technology. For retrofit situations however, there are also solutions that can make all the difference. For example, at the recent ISE show, thinknx demonstrated a voice-activated push notifications service that could help in the event of a fall in the home. ‘Falls are the largest cause of emergency hospital admissions for older people’, according to the AgeUK – Later Life in the United Kingdom – 2018 Report. Anything that can speed the arrival of help must be a positive step.
Practical KNX solutions
KNX has been used extensively at Hereward College, Coventry. The college provides specialist residential support for students with disabilities including cerebral palsy, sensory impairment, autism and behavioural difficulties. Paul Doyle, Research and Development Manager at Hereward, described the college’s residences as needing to be accessible to an ever-changing cohort whose students’ needs were diverse and would remain so. Solutions had to be easily-configurable and future-proof, and cost was paramount.
I would be flippant to simply say that KNX ticks the box, but we can all see the benefits such technology can bring; the ability to reconfigure a room to suit differing student requirements on an almost annual basis makes a compelling case. Door actuator and sensors provide both easy access and safety. Call systems facilitate speedy staff responses.
The business choices we make ultimately must be appropriate to the future vision of the company. The opportunities that KNX provides are huge. With an ageing population that is more technically savvy and financially free from burden, there is an opportunity to create a better environment. Add to that the improved life expectancy if remaining in one’s home rather than going into residential care, and it creates a very strong business case. Whether it’s just checking, helping the worried well or providing assisted living, KNX and the smart technology that surrounds our world we can help with solutions.
With thanks and acknowledgements to Paul Doyle, Hereward College, Coventry.
Simon Buddle is a consultant for Future Ready Homes, a specialist in BMS and ELV services system design.