Smart home technologies to support independent living

Volume 16, Number 4, December 2011

In Canada, the percentage of individuals over the age of 65 is expected to increase, from 14% in 2010 to 23% in 2031. However, current housing is not meeting the needs of some seniors and people with disabilities. Homes, either single or multi-tenant units, are designed and constructed to meet requirements that do not address specific needs of occupants with visual impairment and other medical or age-related issues.

At the same time, keeping these people in their own homes as long as possible, and avoiding their premature admission to long-term care facilities, will reduce healthcare costs and healthcare pressure on government. In fact, the vast majority of senior Canadians and people with disabilities, and those dealing with accident rehabilitation, would prefer to receive care at home in the same community where they have been living for decades, rather than in a hospital or long-term care facility. (For more information, read the white paper from Care Innovations.)

In collaboration with industrial partners, researchers at the NRC Institute for Research in Construction Centre for Computer-assisted Construction Technologies have been developing and testing smart home technologies to support independent living. The main objectives are to develop and integrate innovative information and communication technology (ICT) solutions and construction technologies. These are expected to provide high quality and yet affordable supports for seniors and people with disabilities to live safely and independently in their own homes.

ICT solutions Construction technologies
  • sensors
  • sensor networks
  • personal medical devices
  • assistive systems / equipment
  • health monitoring systems
  • decision support tools
  • air quality
  • lighting
  • acoustics
  • accessibility
  • fall-protection floors and structures

Advanced ICT solutions can support safe and independent living in many ways:

  • Monitor the activities of the occupant and the physical conditions of both the occupant and the living environment to ensure safety
  • Automate tasks that an occupant is unable to perform
  • Alert helpers or caregivers if the occupant is experiencing problems
  • Remind the occupant, by using auditory and visual prompts, when a safety or health concern is detected (e.g., the front door is not locked; the stove is on while the occupant is in bed; a prescribed medicine is not taken on time)

A proof-of-concept demonstration system has been implemented and deployed in two sites (at the NRC facility in London and at the iSILS facility in Waterloo). The prototype system is able to monitor air temperature and humidity, usage of water (washroom and kitchen), doors, refrigerator, stove, TV, motion, vital health conditions and location of the occupant. Caregivers (including family members) have password-protected access to this information on the Internet. Alerts are sent through emails, mobile text messages, and automatic phone calls.

A test facility called Lab for Independent Living Technologies (LILT) is being built at NRC-London facilities to further develop, test, and demonstrate the technologies developed by NRC and its partners.

For more information

Current industrial partners include the JG Group of Companies and iSILS Inc. Additional industrial partners are sought to expand this project. For more information, contact Weiming Shen at weiming.shen@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca or 519-430-7134.