This article was first published in Inside Housing.
What does housing want and need from the future of assisted living technology?
That’s the question asked of me and my technology buddies from housing associations Anchor, Riverside and Hanover at the CIH Housing 2018 conference last month.
It’s not a question that trips off the tongue unless, like me, you are an expert in retirement living jargon... however the technology offer for older people is looking like a game-changer in the next 12 months.
Assistive technology is the stuff that enables people with disability and limited mobility to stay living longer in their own home.
Fellow panellist Nick Sedgwick, director of service development at Hanover, likened the housing sector’s current technology offer for older people to the cassette deck in the cars of the 80s (ahh, pause for happy memories of The Cure, The Mission and Fields of the Nephilim to spark synapses for those of us in generation X).
The in-car listening experience got really snazzy when the buttons that clunked your cassette forward came into being, and in older people’s technology terms that’s pretty much where we’ve stayed... until now.
The red buttons and cords that grace our sheltered housing need to fast forward quite a few stages… and quickly.
We need to skip pass the once space-age technology that was the equivalent of CDs into the voice-activated artificial intelligence of tomorrow.
Except it’s not so much what housing wants and needs from technology, it’s about what older people – the silver surfers, the grey pound… the bed blockers (not my favourite term) – want.
What will they be happy to have in their home? What will they be willing to pay for? What will they choose to use just because they like it?
The myth that older people can’t adjust to new technologies is just that. Many people over 70 right now will surf the web, Skype their kids, download their films and TV.
They also happily work out how to use in-car technology, even though they’ve got a lifetime of cassettes and CDs at hand.
Over the past few months – hosted by the mothership of HACT – Curo, Anchor and Riverside have clubbed together to host days attended by British safety standard specialists and carers alike to find out what’s in the assistive technology market right now, and to influence what will be in the technology market in the near and more distant future.
We’ve seen things that are really cutting edge and stuff that still just looks like a big red button around your neck.
So our next step is to pilot it safely alongside existing technology with focus groups of customers.
Before we do that, I’m going to stick my neck out and share my checklist of essentials for the future of technology in people’s homes:
- Technology needs to be utterly reliable with swift and ring-fenced connectivity in an emergency – after all I might need it to summon urgent help one day (remember, we’re all tomorrow’s users of assistive technology)
- It needs to be attractive, sleek and good looking enough for all of us to want to have it in our home. It needs to look like I’m worth it
- Technology must connect me to my friends and family, wherever they are in the world. I don’t want to be lonely. When I’m under the weather I want neighbours, near and far, who can help me to join in with the things going on in the community that I’ve always loved
- I want technology to be non-intrusive, easy and intuitive to use, so I don’t feel patronised by the technology I’ve allowed into my home
- I should be cost-effective and have different price points. If I want to upgrade to include a voice-activated Amazon Dot thingy, I can
- I don’t want to be tracked by my children via sensors so they know how long I’ve been in the bathroom and I don’t want to talk to a robot instead of a human
So far, no single offer has all of the above.
So my last word is a clarion call for collaboration. Getting together to get the best technology platform plus the best software attachments is the name of the future technology game.
If technology organisations get it right there’s a huge market that will jump at the chance to upgrade their offer and create an aspirational customer experience for all.
If we achieve that, assistive technology will never be the same again and we’ll all want it in our retirement living pads.