Lifestyle

Age, Wisdom, and Swiping Right

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In its May publication of Senior Housing Outlook 2018, Colliers International pointed out a fact that
we all know: we’re aging. Come 2050, 30% of the population in Asia’s biggest economies—Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Japan and South Korea—will be over 65 years old, and they’ll be living for even longer. That will put pressure on both labour forces and economic growth, and “even fast-developing countries where seniors are a smaller presence, such as India and the Philippines, will face difficulties if many of their young people continue to work overseas and are largely unable to attend to the immediate needs of their elderly parents,” according to Colliers. 

Independent Living

When our greying population is considered, it is usually in relation to health care costs and pension scheme strain, but housing is a crucial, oft overlooked factor in a changing world. Previous generations assumed elderly parents would live with their children, especially in Asia, but smaller families, rising divorce rates, and simple social evolution has made that less of a guaranteed practice. Plenty of seniors don’t want to live with their kids, and so “more infrastructure will need to be created for the rising number of seniors who will be residing independently and to cater for those who need different degrees of daily assistance and medical care,” said Colliers.


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As the advisory saw it, four key housing types will be needed in the coming years: developments for active seniors; assisted living facilities with trained staff to help seniors who require moderate assistance with daily activities; nursing care facilities with 24-hour assistance for significant medical issues; and in-home care services for the hale and hearty. 

It is with in-home care that technology potentially offers solutions. For scores of independent-mined senior citizens, giving up the home and lifestyle they value is an unsavoury option and aging in place is the preference. “I expect tech to play a big part in [aging in place],” says David Faulkner, managing director, valuations and advisory services, Asia at Colliers, and editor of the report. “I have noticed that a lot more elderly people are getting comfortable with technology. A lot of retired people are active on Facebook, they’ll shop online and they’re more tech savvy.” Smart technologies may make ageing in place easier, but even the most robust seniors need help on occasion, and forgetfulness comes with age quite naturally. Seniors that don’t feel ready for assisted living could benefit from smart homes, and the Senior Citizen Home Safety Association (SCHSA) is looking into just that. 


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The “Smart Home for Seniors” pilot programme aims to provide in-home care for the elderly by integrating smart home technology. Working from the SCHSA’s call centres, the programme is rooted in prevention of the kind of accidents that could strip an otherwise fit senior of their independence: wet floors, unattended stoves, forgotten medications, and more. Specialised sensors, cloud computing and data analytics are all parts of creating high-tech homes that beep and respond when the kitchen seems hotter than it should be, or when blood pressure pills are required but Gran is so engrossed in a Korean drama she forgets the time.

Big Data for Good

The test lab in the SCHSA offices in Ho Man Tin, designed by Clifton Leung at Clifton Leung Design Workshop, is open to the public—a crucial element in showcasing what smart tech can do for, both for elderly residents who may be unfamiliar with an iPad and their children, who are most likely to pay for it. The lab “[serves] as a platform to facilitate device testing and to showcase the new generation of seniors’ home,” says the SCHSA. It also features 3D graphics that add a playful element and provide a more tangible idea of what the programme does.


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Leung’s focus on the model apartment was less on design and materials and more on technology, admittedly a tricky concept for the generations ahead. “We used vinyl floors in the design because they don’t slip, even with water on them, [with] different coloured zoning to indicate where you are,” says Leung. “The pilot project isn’t so much about safety as it is about technology, so it’s the sensors on the cabinets, the flood sensors near the bathroom, blood pressure gauges and so on that were supposed to stand out. It’s not about brands either. It’s a test lab.”


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Test labs are a start, but getting Gran to actually use sensors and technology she doesn’t fully understand is another story. “It’s hard. Classic example: I gave my mum a phone with the SCHSA app. She refused to use it,” says Leung. “It’s about how we convince seniors to use smart technologies, and about making a future home that relates to reality for the user. The design needs to get them ready for the next era. This is the perfect platform. I don’t use loud furniture and glaring tech; it’s not about that. It’s about safety that links to their home.”


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Leung thinks that ultimately, smart senior-friendly homes will become the norm— a better, more comprehensive extension to existing products like MedicAlert, and a cost-effective solution for single seniors. “This is for daily life, so I think it’s even more useful,” finishes Leung. “Tech can be an improvement, preventing accidents rather than responding to them.” Faulkner agrees, confident the technological divide is shrinking, and will likely be gone inside a decade. Echoing Leung, Faulkner says, “My mother gets her blood pressure taken at home and doesn’t believe the numbers. It’s about changing the culture, but there still has to be a human being involved,” he adds. “If you fall over, someone needs to
come in. If water is detected in the bathroom, someone has to come in. This is still an issue in Asia because the number of people trained in this area is small. There’s a huge need for training that will have to go hand-in-hand with in-home tech-
assisted living.”  

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