I Want to be Independent
Balancing Awareness with Privacy
It was March of 2016 when I first heard the phrase “Silver Tsunami”. I was in Atlanta, at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for an unrelated meeting. A senior director used the term to describe the impending healthcare crisis due to an aging population. The trend was obvious, but I hadn’t yet felt the pain of caring for aging loved ones. From that point forward, I found myself deeply tuning into stories about the challenges of aging.
“I’d like to move to a nursing home or assisted living,” said no older adult, ever. (Washington Post, 07/01/19). Supporting people to age in their own homes preserves what they value most: independence. Technology can play a significant role in providing support to people aging at home.
At the first level, technology can be used to remind someone to do something. This could be an alarm or visual alert to drink some water or take a medication.
The second level is awareness that an event has occurred. For example, confirmation that Mom is up and moving around.
The third level is automation. This often involves combining several events into one action. For example, turning on the lights at night when someone approaches the room.
The fourth level is assistive technology that can perform a task with input from the user, such as a voice command. For example, changing the TV station or adjusting a chair.
The fifth level is prevention and is based on the system learning the typical behaviour patterns and activities in the home. When changes occur to normal patterns, support people can be alerted and serious issues prevented.
Technology that considers these five levels extends our ability to age at home. While interviewing families about what they need, we made two discoveries:
For peace of mind, families want awareness of any changes to their loved one's condition or behaviour.
That awareness can’t come at the expense of their loved one's privacy.
Awareness is about specific types of events and whether they have or have not occurred. Was Mom out of bed at her usual time? Was she visiting the bathroom more frequently than normal? Is Dad opening the fridge and taking his medication on time?
Our first design challenge was to understand what clients really meant by awareness and privacy. Each of these come at the expense of the other. A camera or microphone provides 100% awareness but it comes with 0% privacy. So where is the balance?
To find a balance, we focused on ambient sensors. Our sensors measure activity in the home and provide ambient intelligence. This information about activities of daily living is used to create awareness without the need for cameras or listening devices.
This means plenty of awareness, and plenty of privacy. Mom and Dad have the independence they crave and you get the peace of mind you need.