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Iowa State University Extension

Grow old in your own home with smart home technology

panel discussion of smart home technology

The “smarter” your home, the longer you’ll be able to live in it as you grow older. This concept is gaining attention not only in Iowa with its increasing aging population, but also nationally and internationally. The 2008 International Conference on Smart Homes and Health Telematics (ICOST) came to Iowa State this summer to discuss ways technology can enhance quality of life for rural elders.

“The goal of all of the new technology is to help people stay in their own homes independently,” said Mary Yearns, ISU Extension housing specialist and an ICOST organizer.

This marked the first time that ICOST was in the United States and the first time that it focused on smart home technology in terms of an aging population.

Smart home technology runs the gamut from simple touch screen monitors to complex robots using fuzzy logic to respond to people’s needs, Yearns said. With computers, special sensors and other assistive technology, smart homes enable older people and those with physical limitations to more easily perform daily tasks, engage in entertainment and leisure activities, and communicate with friends and family members, no matter how far apart they may be.

An older woman who lives alone could have virtual meals with her adult children in another state via a flat screen TV in her dining room and one in theirs, Yearns said. The technology would allow them to converse over dinner just as if they were sitting at the same table.

The same technology could be used for virtual health checkups, connecting a person who no longer drives to a doctor or nurse in a distant clinic, she said.

Strategically placed cameras and sensors in the floor and appliances can track a person’s movements through a home. For example, if no one opens the refrigerator all day, a sensor on the door would send a signal; then someone would come to the home and make sure the resident was OK.

“It’s a trade-off between privacy and security. If you agree to have the sensors in your home, you can have the assurance that someone will check on you,” Yearns said.

Many of the technologies already exist on the market, she noted. The challenge is to help people figure out how to integrate them into their existing homes.

To learn more about smart home technologies, contact Yearns at

This article appeared in August 2008 -- From Jack Payne Newsletter