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

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