Smart home, better health

Amazon, Alexa, smart home, devices, assistive technology, age in place, medication reminders, social isolation, older adults, aging

From AHS Magazine,* Summer 2018

Smart home devices can make life easier around the house, but what if they could also improve one’s health?  BHIS research assistant professor, Jessie Chin, is collaborating on a project with Kelly Quinn in the UIC College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that examines the use of smart home devices for health promotion among older adults.

Smart home devices, such as Amazon’s Alexa or Google Home, allow users to speak to the device to request information, such as the news and weather, or give commands, such as playing music.

“People tend to use these devices as a personal assistant to manage their life, but the functions could help promote their lifestyle for better health, ” said Chin, who’s conducted interdisciplinary research in cognitive science, human-computer interaction and human factors, with a focus on human-information interaction across the lifespan.

“People could add reminders to serve as memory aids — they could tell the devices where they stored their keys and ask them later, or set a reminder to take medications with the time and date, ”  she said.

The devices can also be utilized to manage lifestyle.  “Older adults tend to have sedentary behavior, so they could set reminders to take a walk regularly, for example.”

Quinn, who focuses her research on the social implications of technology use, plans to examine how the devices could be used to enhance social well-being and reduce loneliness among older adults.

“Social connection is really important at older ages,” Quinn said.  “We know that when older adults are disconnected and lonely, there is a greater incidence of cognitive decline, depression and early mortality.

“There are some interesting things that happen when we age — we retire and lose social connections, we lose spouses and friends who have died.  There’s mobility limitations and higher incidences of chronic disease.  All of these things are connected to the decline in the ability to connect with people.”

Smart home devices could help improve quality of life, Quinn said.

*For Alumni & Friends of the College of Applied Health Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago

The view out the window

A few years ago I was working with a lady and her caregiver in a lovely home at the end of a tree-lined cul-de-sac.  The picture window in the great room at the back of her home looked out onto a park-like setting with a collection of bird feeders and baths at varying heights.  Feathers fluttered, birdseed scattered about, and splashes sparkled in the sun as those birds had a blast out there!  And the delight for my client was clear . . .

bird bath, 3 birds, splash, garden, summer, spring

She got it right.  I felt honored to be her occupational therapist in home health care to assist in problem-solving some transfer techniques as her condition continued to deteriorate.  I’ll call my patient “Sandy.”  She once worked as a Vice President of a large local car dealership.  Knowing her neurological condition was progressive, Sandy and her husband designed and built a completely accessible home long before the term age-in-place became mainstream.  I recall zero thresholds to enter the front door, wide doorways and hallways, an elevator for accessing the second floor, and more.  One key element was missing, however:  a mechanical lift to assist her petite caregiver in transferring Sandy from her recliner chair to her modified wheelchair.  Sandy didn’t want one however, which posed a grave risk for injury to her and her caregiver.  They decided to have Sandy’s husband continue to complete the transfer with maximum assistance.

I quickly learned that the focus of Sandy’s treatment would need to be on the tasks that mattered most to her.  Our treatment plan included training her caregiver in safe methods to provide Sandy passive and active-assist range of motion exercises, beginning when the patient was still in bed.  This positioning protected Sandy’s shoulder girdle and allowed for better body mechanics for her caregiver providing them.  When Sandy was out of bed, her focus changed to sensory delights for her abilities that remained intact:  a large T.V. screen cable-connected to her laptop and the outside world, hard candies, and her feathered friends just outside her window.  The last one was my favorite and the one that came to mind as I looked out my own sliding glass door this afternoon.

Splish-splash, they were taking a bath!  First one then two then one chasing away a third with the flaps of her dripping wings, oh my!  I was resting after a long morning of gardening at our local extension office when this simple pleasure caught my eye and my heart.  I wondered how Sandy was doing on this very pretty Fall day?  Oh how I wish she knew how much she taught me about savoring moments like these.  I am so grateful for the opportunity to share this insight with you as well.  Please take a moment to enjoy something like this today too, k?

Take care,

Julie, O.T.

Travelling with Special Needs: No Problem

Just came across this valuable resource for your clients and loved ones travelling with a person who has special needs.  This might be for accessibility (such as renting a wheelchair or scooter at the person’s destination), oxygen, special beds, bathroom equipment and more.  The destination location may provide the service or the caregiver can contact a Certified Accessible Travel Advocate when making reservations.

Find out more at this website and get on down the road  . . . or on the plane . . . or sail off on that long-awaited cruise!

Take care,

Julie, O.T.