While the introduction of smart home tools such as Amazon Alexa, Google Home, and Apple's Siri has simplified everyday tasks for homeowners and led to major lifestyle changes over the last several years, these digital assistants also have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and help older Americans safely age in place. The residential sector accounts for about 20% of all GHG emissions in the U.S., but smart home systems now allow homeowners to track their energy output and find ways to reduce their carbon emissions.
In addition, in-home devices present caregivers and health care providers with an indispensable tool for monitoring and responding to changes in health measures, allowing them to react more quickly to emergencies. The problem, according to Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, is implementing these tools so they can be as effective as possible.
First, they may not be helpful if the people using them live in housing that is physically inadequate, does not meet accessibility needs, or is unaffordable, conditions that affect millions of older adults and especially people of color, those with low incomes, and renters. Second, the monitoring technologies could be so intrusive they change the positive feelings of safety and security that people often have about their homes into negative reminders of illness and frailty. Third, the digital devices may extend how long people stay in their home at the expense of burdensome care typically provided by family members and other unpaid caregivers.