Smart (at) home: how Iot can help health

Marta Cristofanini

Internet of Things: an intelligent and accessible environment

Who among us imagining possible future scenarios has never thought of an environment – domestic or otherwise – capable of listening to every request or even anticipating our needs? That of being surrounded by an intelligent environment geared towards satisfying our needs is a fairly common tech-oriented fantasy.

To say that today’s IoT (acronym for Internet of Things) solutions live up to these expectations would not be entirely correct; nevertheless, some of the available solutions allow us to inhabit spaces permeated by an interconnected and personalized intelligence, which is still able to unveil numerous potentials.

In fact, accessibility is one of the keywords of the sector: simplifying tasks related to certain situations is a factor that is not only linked to issues of convenience, but can be an integral part of a real social-assistance strategy.

IoT applied in health-related areas can provide greater independence and security for frail and elderly people in domestic situations. It represents a major breakthrough for home care, and not only!

Image of IoT devices

IoT applications in different sectors

The concept of the Internet of Things was first developed in 1999 by Kevin Ahston. Ashton was the first to use the term to advance the idea that computers, as information extractors, could be enhanced in their autonomy and capacity to process data collected from the environment by reducing human intervention.

This kind of empowerment encapsulates the ultimate vision of a world where ‘diffuse’ computers are able to perceive and schematize it, more precisely and effectively than their human counterparts.

Thanks to the Internet, every object can potentially be interconnected to other objects. This facilitates the exchange of their knowledge and information for a coordinated administration of the surrounding space.

But where is the IoT moving from words to deeds most rapidly and with proven results? From industrial to domestic; from urban to agricultural, via automotive and infrastructure.

Each area would deserve an in-depth study in its own right; in this article, we propose to focus on the domestic sector in particular, relating to smart home and home automation. We will highlight the advantages that IoT applications could offer in terms of social welfare and personal health protection. Because it is precisely from there that the next incisive steps of the immediate future will move.

Smart Home, the home that (also) takes care of you

The concept of smart home is akin to that of home automation; both fall within the broader definition of Ambient Assisted Living or AAL. These are central themes for the founders of Teseo and have been dealt with academically at length and in depth.

AAL encompasses all those solutions aimed at improving the environment in which we live, with a focus on the frail and elderly. These are technological solutions, but not only: different aspects, such as psychological and social ones, are included.

Home automation, on the other hand, focuses mainly on the more technological side, where the automation of the home and the goal of making it smarter (smarter!) remain at the forefront.

The smart home is thus the ultimate version of an intelligent home environment. Each object has its own recognizable digital identity and is interconnected to all others. It is the natural evolution of home automation, thanks precisely to the implementation of IoT solutions.

A functionality for every need

If voice assistants or smart speakers are the epitome and literally the voice of smart homes (with really interesting application cases and target users), the IoT revolution does not end there alone. In fact:

  • offers solutions for personal assistance and safety, such as alerts on falls and health status (usually in synergy with wearable devices);
  • security systems (such as video surveillance systems connected to smart TVs, smart intercoms);
  • solutions for monitoring energy consumption and air quality in the home;
  • on/off control systems for household appliances and lighting;
  • voice and remote control of air conditioning systems.

Despite the crisis and the forced stop due to the emergency events of the last two years, today the smart home market in Italy is worth EUR 650 million, with particular emphasis on smart appliances and timeless smart speakers.

However, it is precisely health and safety solutions that are the likely co-leaders of the future of care.

Independence and security for the most fragile

Grow old at home‘ is the new mantra of social care services. Home care, especially during and after the pandemic, has shown some intrinsic health benefits for both caregivers and those cared for.

A safe and healthy home provides more independence and security for frail and/or elderly persons through discreet and ever-present monitoring.

Information on the individual…

For example, in synergy with wearable devices, the smart home could detect a person’s falls and immediately notify the caregiver or emergency services. In addition, it could try to establish a dialogue to maintain contact with the individual in distress.

At the same time, his or her vital and well-being parameters could be monitored on a day-to-day basis; this would make it possible to notice immediately when any behavior deviates from the norm or if dangerous situations are emerging. This is precisely what Teseo’s research behind Kibi is dealing with; it is to be considered to all intents and purposes a digital ally for the health and wellbeing of its caregivers, whether they are frail and/or elderly.

… and the surrounding environment

Together with the action of the smart speakers, this information could be made accessible to the user himself. Anything that is relevant to his or her health and well-being can be communicated, including information about his or her surroundings. Examples could be air quality, the presence of someone at the door or an alert notification because the oven has been left on.

These would provide remote monitoring for caregivers and home caregivers, while also ensuring peace of mind and safety for those involved. In England, where some trials are already underway, the results seem to confirm these predictions.

The home is shaping up to be the first place of care, a trend also confirmed by the distribution of NRP health funds. The IoT can only help in this regard, especially considering the latest developments in the medical field. This is precisely what the Internet of Medical Things is all about.

IoT and Medicine

The application of the IoT systems in health and medicine can result in several areas:

  • telemedicine;
  • preventive medicine:
  • applications in diagnostics;
  • applications in clinical care.

In addition to making specialist interventions more effective and impactful, these technological aids help to keep chronic patients’ vital parameters and post-discharge follow-ups under better control.

Moreover, the hospital burden of doctors and nurses would be lightened, and the cost-benefit ratio greatly improved.

IoT & Smart Home for health and safety

To conclude this overview of the IOT applied to the smart home scenario for the protection of people’s health and safety, all that remains is to reiterate the immediate benefits that everyone, carers and assisted, can draw from it.

The near future is definitely committing funds in this direction of research and application, for a smarter management of health and related chronic conditions.

The home as a cosy and safe place of care makes it possible to be more independent, longer, ensuring a positive impact both in the lives of individuals and in the health and social care management of health.

Last post