Town Centre Living: We are developing and inviting a conversation on a Caring Place through our social media channels and on this website. We asked Keith Quinn from the Scottish Social Services Council to reflect on how technology can support independent living for an aging population.
Local authority social care spending increased by 46 per cent (in real terms) over the eight years from 2002/03 to 2010/11, and in 2016/17 local authority social work departments spent approximately £4.25 billion on social care services (Source).
We also know that projections for 2010-2035 are forecasting a 27% increase in the population over the age of 65, but an even more dramatic increase (82%) in the percentage of people who live to the age of 75 and over. This becomes more alarming when set alongside the corresponding decrease in the population of working age, also forecast for the same period. This will clearly have an impact on the demand for services currently provided and/or funded by local authority social services departments.
Live Well for Longer
But beyond the financial and human recourse issues, the most fundamental of issues we need to consider is how we enable citizens to not only live longer, but live well for longer. A big part of maintaining that sense of wellbeing as we grow older is avoiding the need for us to leave behind familiar living and social environments for residential services simply because our homes and communities can no longer accommodate our changing needs.
With that in mind, we need to rethink how we design our living and social spaces and build in accessibility by design. Accessibility needs to be redefined as being an issue for the majority of the population rather than a means of accommodating ‘special’ needs: after all, we are all going to age, no matter how far away that might seem!
In addition to the demographic issues over the past ten years, digital technologies have become almost ubiquitous. Over 85% of the population own a smartphone, and the fastest growth in tablet ownership was among those under 12 and over 65 (source), so we really need to abandon the stereotypical picture of older people being wary or uncomfortable with technology. The touchscreen user interface, mobile form factor and ‘always-on’ internet connections provided by modern consumer technology have driven the integration of digital technologies into our everyday lives, and removed many of the psychological barriers which have prevented people from engaging with technology on a day-to-day basis.
To some degree, the technology has become almost invisible to the end user. To use it we no longer need to remember arcane commands and protocols, just press the power button and it’s on; tap the icon for what you want to do and it loads instantly. Almost by stealth, television has begun to morph from a broadcast services to an internet streaming service and with the addition of small (and at times, tiny) adapters, televisions can transform from a ‘dumb’ TV into a smart, internet connected home hub.
We are beginning to see the development of off-the-shelf home automation via products like the NEST and HIVE thermostats, and voice recognition-based User Interfaces are maturing rapidly. Both Apple and Samsung developed frameworks to allow developers to easily create apps and services for smart homes. HomeKit is Apple’s framework for communicating with and controlling connected accessories in a user’s home. Similar to Apple’s HomeKit, Samsung SmartThings is both a hardware platform and software framework for communicating with and controlling connected accessories in a user’s home. These development frameworks plus the availability of affordable Artificial Intelligence-driven smart speakers, signpost the future of affordable smart care spaces.
Major tech corporations are now investing billions of dollars developing smart home and health/wellbeing technologies. Creating a smart living or smart care space at a base level is now available off-the-shelf. Whilst there will always be a place for specialised, bespoke technology for care, the rapid expansion in capability and availability of consumer technology will drive the potential of creating smart living and caring spaces.
There is no doubt that corporations such as Apple, Samsung and Google see the potential for significant profit in their research and development investments, but the side benefit for end users is the attention to user experience design which comes with their involvement in the smart living arena. For service providers, another potential gain from using off-the-shelf tech for telecare, is that the learning curve tends to be fairly shallow, ongoing support is readily available and we can move beyond the “sheep-dip” approach to training staff to work with assistive technology.
Affordable and Ready to Use Technology
So, by realising the potential and benefits of off-the-shelf technologies and combining these with specialised provision, we can hopefully make support services less intrusive and more mainstream than is currently the case. Technology that is affordable, readily available and easy to use, is paving the way for supporting people to maintain themselves in their own homes for longer, and to live well for longer.
About the Author:
Keith Quinn has over 30 years’ experience in the social service sector and has spent the last 20+ years working in learning and development in one capacity or another. Currently, he leads a small team at Scottish Social Services Council (http://www.sssc.uk.com) whose remit is the design, development and support of digital learning.
About A Caring Place
What does a caring place look like? How we can use design to help create a caring place? What value does design bring? As part of this conversation we will be inviting designers, care profession and those cared for (through the organisations that represent them) to share their thoughts. Read more here.