Is a smart home a real home?

The sense of home is very personal, and as we age it is likely to become more personal as we spend more time at home. Younger people who build brand new homes are increasingly embracing smart technology. For older people, smart technology, especially that which collects data, disrupts the sense of home. So, from the lived experience perspective of older people, is a smart home a real home?

Older people want to stay in their own home. It is also the best place for people to manage the consequences of ageing such as dementia and physical conditions.

A living room with two couches and bookcase overlaid with a graphic of a smartphone with radiating lines indicating ambient monitoring of a smart home,

To age successfully and safely at home often means embracing a range of assistive technologies. They can be as simple as a raised toilet seat and using colour contrasts for interior design. But accepting these technologies is another thing. Grab bars are shunned because of the link with being disabled.

Assistive technologies impact on one’s sense of self – one’s identity. Assistive devices used outside the home feel particularly stigmatising and in too many cases these devices are abandoned. So can the same be said of digital assistive technology especially if it is monitoring your every move?

Tech and older people

Smart home technology in the age-related literature is more than a remote control for the window blinds. It is technology that collects monitoring data through sensors and wearables. The aim is to keep the person safe and improve their wellbeing. But who wants to have their life documented in a database?

A review of older people and the use of smart home technology looked at the issue of acceptance and use. The researchers wanted to find a way to make these technologies more acceptable to older people. They found that issues are not related to accessibility or usefulness but to an invasion of privacy and lack of human interaction.

Human-centred design solutions that take account of a person’s sense of familiarity and privacy at home could help overcome resistance. The researchers provide more detail about their research and the ethics of home monitoring devices.

A diagram of a two storey house with indications of the different types of smart technology that can be used and operated with a mobile phone.

The title of the article is, The smart home, a true home? How new technologies disrupt the experience of home for older persons.

From the abstract

Smart home technologies can support older persons to age in place, but adoption remains low in this age group. One reason is that they are not accustomed to having a home that is technologically enhanced. In this article, we focus on the older persons’ lived experience of “home” and show how this technology potentially disrupts it.

Humans rely on their physical body and they make decisions based on their perceptions of their physical body without the intervention of technologies. Smart home technologies potentially make the home seem unfamiliar and exposed.

By paying attention to the way smart home technology can disrupt the experience of home, the question of ethical use is brought into the frame. The design of these technologies has an important role to play in acceptance by older people.

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