Digital transformation in housing must meet the needs of older generations
Digital transformation in housing must meet the needs of older generations
Digital transformation in housing must meet the needs of older generations

Digital transformation in housing must meet the needs of older generations

Appello’s chief technology officer (CTO) Carl Atkey, explains why digital transformation is needed to improve the quality of housing and care for the elderly.

We’re all familiar with the traditional door buzzers and emergency pull cords within housing for older people. We’re familiar with it because it’s been around for more years than most can remember.

The current alarm and telecare systems in place in the majority of housing for older people are generally not effective for today’s needs. Traditional or analog telecare systems can take a long time, often up to 90 seconds, to connect through to a telecare monitoring center.

For the resident, it appears as though their call is not being answered, when actually, the call hasn’t yet been received. In an emergency, those 90 seconds may have a significant impact on the outcome.

In addition to this, for each housing development or site, only one call to a monitoring center can be received and connected at any one time. No matter whether that call is a delivery person needing door access or a desperate resident who has fallen, once the only line is engaged, the other calls form a queue.

IoT and digital infrastructure

When we talk about digital and IP technologies, there are typically two pieces to the puzzle. The first is the actual devices used in and around the home; activity monitors, fall sensors and pendant alarms; and the second is the digital technology or infrastructure to enable devices to work.

Current analog systems only support one call at a time, whereas digital technologies, using Internet Protocols (IP) means that calls, activity and much more can be sent and received via the internet – addressing the limitations that analog systems have.

Benefits to residents

The primary benefits are associated with improved speed of access to support and much better two-way speech, which can be far less confusing for older people. But, there are also further potential benefits of providing internet access to help older people to remain connected with loved ones and to continue, for as long as possible, to live more independently.

Mobility issues are a concern for many in later life, so having a small device to help open and close curtains, and to control heating, means that the power to live comfortably and relatively independently remains with the resident as they are not as reliant on others to perform day-to-day tasks. Security through access to video door entry applications also reduces anxiety amongst older and vulnerable tenants.

Related: NHS testbeds show future of healthcare – but concerns linger on Big Data

IoT is here and ready – we should be using it

The housing industry, from design to build and provisioning, has been slow on the uptake of IoT. With more domestic appliances becoming digitally connected; appliances such as the fridge or television can produce information to aid and support the resident.

For example, smart devices on taps can monitor whether people are consuming enough water in a day; smoke and carbon monoxide detectors can constantly monitor air quality, producing warnings to people with allergies or breathing difficulties. Most importantly, housing technology is being upgraded from becoming time-saving to potentially life-saving.

If you use IoT based data on a specific property, you can start to see trends in a resident’s daily activities. By plotting the well-being of a person based on data from digitally connected devices, a housing provider can be proactive on a resident’s care rather than reactive after something has happened. When you apply this across a wider property portfolio, the provider can start to see geographic and demographic trends that could influence the types of housing dwellings and services that are provided in the future.

The future of housing is digital

Housing providers are starting to switch onto the fact that demand is growing from consumers to offer more choice and flexibility that digital can provide. In a recent Digital Care Barometer survey run in conjunction with Appello and The Housing LIN, over 56 percent of housing providers already have a plan to move from analog to digital or it is something they are looking at in 2017 and beyond. We know that the market for digitally connected consumer products is growing fast. But, it’s not just about convenience. When you can record the usage of household goods with smart capabilities, you have potentially life-saving information at your fingertips. An opened fridge door might suggest food is being prepared and eaten, a water jug emptying may show a person is drinking and a toilet flush sensor could suggest that a person is using the bathroom.

These sorts of IoT devices will help monitor many long-term health conditions and provide vital information so that proactive care and support can be undertaken to improve the lives of many.

The benefits of IoT are clear, for both housing providers and residents. My advice to housing providers and housing development managers is to look towards these new digital technologies to improve the provision of care to the older generations of today, meeting rising customer expectations and preparing for the future capabilities of IoT.

By Carl Atkey, chief technology officer at Appello, provider of technology-enabled care services