Cyber Monday and aging in place are made for each other

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Life section of the Annapolis Capital, Sunday December 1, 2019

by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from Bonus Years in the Life section of the Annapolis Capital, Sunday, December 1, 2019

We bought a new TV last week – a so-called “smart” TV.  In the old days, with dumb TVs, you bought the TV, put it in the trunk, unpacked it when you got home and plugged it in.  The hardest part was the unpacking.  The “installation” required finding a wall plug.  Not a big deal.  The whole process made the consumer feel smart and satisfied.

Today, the man-machine relationship is changed.  The TV is smart, and the consumer is, well, dumb – or at least intimidated.  First, smart TVs have to be hooked up to the Internet.  For most, that’s a lot harder than finding a wall plug. 

Plus, you have to get it synced with all the different platforms – such as Netflix, Prime, Hulu, and, of course, the History Channel and the Smithsonian.  That means passwords, which means hunting down the passwords and then finding the latest version after you discover the one you found has been changed by someone – or at least doesn’t work anymore, signaled by popup with those dreaded words: “Sorry.  Your username and password do not match.”

It’s all very complicated, so, I got the Geek Squad to come in to help me.  It was a full-service experience.  They unpacked everything. Set up the TV and made sure we were hooked up to all the platforms.  Everything worked beautifully.

But this time, the Geek Squad technician had a sidekick – a young woman who was an apprentice, learning the ropes.  But she was not preparing herself to install TVs.  That’s simple stuff.  She was preparing to become an installer to create “smart” homes.

That caught my attention because smart homes are a technology-based innovation that makes it possible for later-life Americans to age in place with more safety, security and convenience than they can in an old-fashioned “uneducated” home.

Setting up a smart home is a lot more complicated than setting up a smart TV.  That’s why my new Geek Squad acquaintance is so important.  She is key to helping those in later life to plan, install and use technology that will help enable aging in place for those who want to remain in their own home in a familiar neighborhood where they have deep roots, long-time friends and neighbors, and on-going relationships with everything from a church or synagogue to a grocery store and pharmacy.

But what is a smart home, after all?  How does the consumer even know where to start?

Enter Oliver Brown and the “Senior Services SourceBook” he published two years ago for Talbot County seniors – a project supported by SourceBook Community Partners, a local organization to expand opportunities for seniors, their families and friends.

According to Brown, the menu of smart home elements is long and can be tailored to your needs. “If your fingers aren’t as nimble as they once were, you might want voice activated controls.  If your eyesight is failing, large screen readouts are available.  If you tend to forget things, you can set reminder messages.”

Examples found his SourceBook include:

  • Remote control from a favorite chair: Thermostats, televisions, Mr. Coffee and other appliances can be voice-activated or activated by remote control.
  • Medication reminders: Smart pillboxes can offer audible or visual cues that prompt you to take your medication or alert loved ones when you have – or haven’t.
  • Danger detection devices:  Smart stove alarms can sound alerts when a burner is left on, smoke is present, or toxic gases are produced.  Other detection devices can determine water leaks, air quality issues or bath overflow issues – and shut off water before overfilling occurs.
  • Smart home security systems: These can used be used to automatically lock doors, provide voice or motion sensitive devices to turn on lights – both inside and outside the home – and motion sensitive devices (including video pictures) to notify you of visitors at the front door or notify you – or your loved ones – remotely if issues arise back home.
  • Smart personal security systems:  These include activity sensors, such as fall detectors and GPS insoles that can comfortably fit in any shoe – or GPS on a smart watch – to help keep track of your location within a home or wherever you might wander or to help if you get lost. 

According to Brown, “We’ve come a long way from ‘I’ve fallen and can’t get up’ pendants that worked only from home where they were linked to a base unit connected to a telephone landline.  If fact, most of these services can be integrated and used from a smart watch, a smart phone or hub like Google Home or Amazon’s Alexa.”

“In fact,” he says, “with the new generation of monitoring systems the person being monitored isn’t even required to wear a device at all.  Instead, a network of in-home sensors connects to a cloud-based algorithm that learns your daily living patterns and can recognize deviations. When something happens that is out of the ordinary, it can send an alert on the senior’s smart phone – or directly to the internet – to a loved one or caregiver who can take whatever actions are indicated.”

As the aging segment of the developed world increases dramatically – a process that began in 2011 in the US when the first boomers reached age 65 – it is essential to find ways for more people to age in place and to do so with safety, security, convenience and opportunities for social engagement.

Technology will play an important role in making aging in place a prudent option for later-life Americans. At the same time, the feasibility of aging in place will be advanced by individuals like Oliver Brown and SourceBook Partners to lay out the options along with for-profits such as the Geek Squad that make technology accessible to the average person.

And since accessibility to technology also has a financial component, an event like Cyber Monday is a good place to start.

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