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Hey Google: How smart tech could help people age on the spot

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If you’re having trouble organizing your medications or your smartphone isn’t smart enough to help you open the door, the Stan Cassidy Center for Rehabilitation may have the answer.

The Fredericton facility offers hands-on learning about smart technology for people over the age of 55 and seniors with caregivers.

The six-week course takes place in the downtown smart home suite, set up like an average apartment, albeit with many interesting, if a little confusing gadgets.

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Marla Calder
Marla Calder is an occupational therapist at the Stan Cassidy Center for Rehabilitation. She is the principal investigator of the smart home project for the elderly. (Sent by Marla Calder)

Marla Calder, occupational therapist and co-researcher on the project, said it helps participants learn how various things in the bedroom, bathroom and kitchen actually work.

“We have developed hands-on educational modules that we could bring into the community and teach seniors how to use this technology to gain independence,” Calder said. “This is another strategy to help with and for social isolation [people] to feel more comfortable with technology.

smart speakers at the Stan Cassidy Rehabilitation Center
Google Home and Amazon Alexa on display in the smart home suite at Fredericton’s Stan Cassidy Center for Rehabilitation. Participants learn how to use these devices to set alarms, turn lights on and off, and lock doors. (Sent by Marla Calder)

Get familiar with the technology

Emma Croken, the project’s research coordinator and developer of the learning modules, said the weekly classes spend the first hour demonstrating how to use technology, then there is time to play and feel more comfortable with the elements.

“They have the chance to learn new things and go home and try them and then come back the next week and ask questions,” Croken said.

Courses cover basic information, such as how to control lights, shutters, locks, and security cameras using a smartphone, tablet, or smart devices with speakers, such as Amazon’s Echo Dot and Google Home.

From there, the lessons move on to more complex issues, such as how to spot a scam and how to create a strong password.

smart technology to control kitchen lights
Clearly labeled technical lighting devices are used in Stan Cassidy’s smart home suite. (Sent by Emma Croken)

By 2038, 31.3% of New Brunswick’s population is expected to be over 65, according to aging strategy for New Brunswick, but this type of information is important for people of all ages.

Medication management is key to staying independent and aging at home, which is why Stan Cassidy’s team is demonstrating the use of smart pill organizers to keep track of when – and what – pills should be taken every day.

“Even just using technology to set drug reminders is something that can really prevent hospital readmissions or really serious health problems,” said Croken.

He adds that many course participants are enthusiastic and eager to learn how to use the devices they have at home.

“They have the technology at home, a lot of them, and they just don’t know where to start. And they’re overwhelmed and they’re afraid, “Croken said.” When [they] come in and play with our stuff, we can get them out of whatever constraints they’re in.

a room at the Stan Cassidy Center
The bedroom of the Smart Home suite where seniors can interact with devices in a place that mimics the home environment. (Sent by Emma Croken)

Emily Read, assistant professor at UNB’s faculty of nursing, said that while some seniors love technology and are eager to use it, others fear that by choosing something like remote monitoring they will lose contact with a personal support worker.

“It is not meant to replace home care. They always want people to come and see them. They want physical help and companionship, “Read said.

smart home devices at the Stan Cassidy Rehab Center
Transparent labels are printed on all devices in the Smart Home suite for educational purposes. (Sent by Emma Croken)

Barriers to access

However, not everyone can access the course in Fredericton as they may not have reliable transportation. And the price of gas can also be an obstacle, especially for those traveling from outside the city.

There is also a language barrier, as courses are currently only offered in English and the default language of technology is often English. It can be adjusted, but sometimes help is needed, Read said.

Having the industry’s streaming technology in the smart home suite is a “big pro,” Calder said, because many seniors may already have friends and family who own these items.

“If so, they can be encouraged to simply join this ecosystem. And that automatically provides them with a support network for troubleshooting, ”Calder said.

“It allows for a little more independence and a little more sense of control over this technology. “

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