Older people are willing to give up some privacy for the support and security offered by smart home technology, a conference has heard.

Dr Dana Dermody

Dr Dana Dermody, who is a researcher in the newly emerging field of ‘gerontechnology’ at Edith Cowan University, addressed the AAG Conference about her research into the readiness of older people to adopt smart home technology on  Wednesday.

She said with the projected increase in older Australians over the next 30 years the residential care model may not be sustainable.

Smart home technology, which can use sensor data to monitor an older person’s health and wellbeing, is critical to enabling more people to age in their own homes, Dr Dermody said.

However, despite the promise smart tech offers, its uptake by older people is patchy, and more needs to be known about the barriers and incentives to them adopting it.

Using one-on-one interviews and a focus group, Dr Dermody surveyed a group of 19 older adults, with a mean age of 79, about their attitudes towards smart home technology.

She said a number of themes emerged including privacy, security, independence, knowledge of smart home technology and cost.

“The interviews began with negative perceptions of living with smart technology because of the potential for privacy infringements and data breaches,” Dr Dermody told the conference.

“However that changed by the end of the interview into recognition of the potential benefits, and how the benefits might actually outweigh some of the negative aspects.”

Privacy concerns

While some participants voiced concerns about privacy, there was a general acceptance that some loss of privacy was worth the benefits.

“Participants understood that some privacy may need to be traded off to remain autonomous and living independently,” she said.

Many also indicated it was a way to avoid family members taking over their care.

“They saw the advantages of the smart home as an enabler to remain in their own homes and as as a means to maintinang their independence for as long as possible with as little family involvement as needed.”

Some also expressed concerns about the cost and maintenance of the technology, although most were agreeable to have a smart home “if they knew that their aged care dollars would pay for it,” Dr Dermody said.

They were also interest in learning more about the technology.

Dr Dermody says she hopes the research will help drive the deployment and use of smart home technology by community-dwelling older adults, but stressed that because of the size and nature of the sample the results of her research couldn’t be viewed as representative of all older people.

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