Researchers uncover off-the-shelf smart home devices can improve wellbeing of seniors

The finding follows a study by Monash University, Deakin University, and McLean Care.
Written by Aimee Chanthadavong, Contributor

Off-the-shelf smart home devices such as robotic vacuum cleaners and smart lights can support the wellbeing and independence of older Australians, a new study undertaken by Monash University, Deakin University, and regional, rural, remote aged care provider McLean Care has uncovered.

The research published in Smart Homes for Seniors [PDF] evaluated the benefits, opportunities, and challenges of incorporating smart home devices in the homes of older people living in regional communities.

It involved running a trial between November 2019 and June 2020. McLean recruited 23 households from its existing client base in regional New South Wales communities in Inverell, Tamworth, and Gunnedah, who were each provided a range of commercially available off-the-shelf smart home devices from different vendors and diverse functionalities. These included Google Home devices, Aeotec smart lights, Kogan smart kettles, and Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners.

Deakin University then collected electronic data from the different devices to analyse what was used and how, while Monash University undertook ethnographic research that involved interviews, home visits, video tours, observations, and follow-up calls, to document participants' experiences. End-of-trial-surveys were also conducted by McLean Care.

Overall, the research found that the Google Home suite of devices were the most frequently used devices, followed by smart lights.

Looking at how participants used Google Home, the research revealed that it was used as a "gateway" device to access other home devices, such as turning on smart lights and smart kettles. At the same time, it was favoured by users for accessing music.  

Further, the research showed approximately half of all participants who had smart lights installed preferred using either a smart button or Google voice requests to interact with the lights. For those participants who used smart buttons to interact with smart lights said it provided them tactile feedback, which was more familiar to them, it was more reliable to voice requests, were conveniently placed, and created fewer disturbances, particularly during the night.

Read also: Elder care facilities using wearables and apps for coronavirus contact tracing (TechRepublic)

From the findings, researchers made recommendations that smart home technologies should be provided as optional extras for in-home services; the elderly should be provided opportunities to learn digital living skills, as well as affordable and reliable internet services; and smart home devices need to be designed and installed to support older people's independence, mobility, and memory. 

"Despite the many benefits smart home devices can offer the elderly population, many older Australians are increasingly concerned about being left behind in the digital age, highlighting the need for proactive policy and research initiatives to help bridge this gap," Monash University project lead Yolande Strengers said.

She added that the study also provides an opportunity to highlight the technology gap that exists among older Australians.

"The Smart Homes for Seniors project was designed to address the research and knowledge gaps relating to older people's use of smart home technologies. We want this project to dispel the stereotypes around older people's interest and capacity to engage with emerging technologies," she said.

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