Wired homes will enable seniors to stay in community
November 2, 2016
CALGARY – A test of a portable, model home that’s designed to help seniors stay in their communities is set to go ahead as a pilot project in January. The project, led by a University of Calgary research team, centres on a 460 square-foot, one-bedroom laneway house equipped with medical monitoring technology.
Laneway homes are typically built or placed on pre-existing lots, usually in backyards. The stand-alone unit will be occupied in two test periods of three to four months, each in two different neighbourhoods.
The compact home has a long list of features designed to make life not only easier but safer for seniors, including handrails, lit flooring, easy-access storage and reconfigurable furniture; all finished with aesthetics and design in mind.
In addition to practical supports for the physical challenges of aging, such as grab bars, the home also features a smart screen with memory prompts for things like medication and a webcam for remote doctor consultations.
The refrigerator features a smart memo board which could turn written grocery lists and reminders into electronic notes for caregivers.
A weight scale built into the floor can alert caregivers on rapid weight gain or loss, both signs of potentially serious illness. There will also be movement sensors on the floor to raise a response to a change in daily routine, as well as plug-and-play modules for medical equipment like oxygen and dialysis.
As with grab bars and ramps, the design team has been working hard to ensure technology is integrated into the home in a way that’s sensitive to the homeowner.
“A home isn’t a medical facility; it’s a domestic space,” commented Professor John Brown of the Architecture Program at the University of Calgary, who is leading the Age-in-Place Laneway Housing Project. “And when we’re developing products and technology for aging in place, we can’t lose sight of the fact there are certain aesthetic, cultural and functional requirements that we need to respect. There’s a level of dignity that people shouldn’t have to give up in old age.”
City counselor Gian-Carlo Carra told CBC News that Calgary won’t need to make changes to rules or regulations to allow the test phase of the housing project to go ahead. “There might be some work that we have to do once these things go from a one-off test pilot to something that we actually start to see happening in people’s backyards,” he said.
The unit is designed to be temporarily located in the backyard of a larger, single residential lot. But Carra said the structures are more medical apparatus than actual houses, which impact a yard “more lightly than a garden shed would.”
A report sent to the city committee notes that 131,382 Calgarians, or just over 10 percent, are 65 years or older. By 2042, that number is expected to more than double to 280,000 seniors.
“Research indicates that a majority of Canadians aged 55 and over would prefer to remain in their current residence for as long as possible, even if they experience changes to their health,” the report reads. “When a move is required due to declining health, it is important to have access to alternative housing options within their communities in order to maintain supportive relationships and prevent social isolation.”
There are no budget requests associated with the pilot project. The city is coordinating with the U of C by providing planning advice and other support to the research team.
“This is world-leading research that will put Calgary on the map and potentially a significant business opportunity for the city, the manufacturing rollout of these things, because seniors housing and seniors care is not just a significant issue in Calgary, it’s a significant issue across North America and across the world,” Carra said.
The project collaborates with the Cummings School of Medicine’s O’Brien Institute for Public Health and W21C, a health systems research and innovation initiative based in the University of Calgary and the Calgary Zone of Alberta Health Services.
It also engages researchers from across the University in the areas of healthy aging, and bio-medical engineering. The project is embedded within the University of Calgary’s Human Dynamics in a Changing World Research Theme.
The test of the first temporary laneway house, starting in January, will have an older individual or older couple residing there for several months while information is collected about the impact that this aging-in-place unit has on the surrounding neighbourhood. Then a test unit will be tried in a different area of the city later in 2017.
The 460-square-foot living quarters behind a family home is touted as a cheaper alternative to a hospital or long-term care facility.
“They share a backyard, they can look after some informal childcare, they’re able to just walk across the lawn to get to dinner. Family members have the peace of mind to know that if somebody is ill, that they’re just right there,” Brown told the Calgary Eyeopener.
The homes could be self-contained or have an above ground “umbilical cord” that could tap into water, heat, electricity, cable and internet from main home.
“Almost all houses are designed for people in good health and can be difficult, isolating, even dangerous places for older persons to live,” says Brown. If this situation remains unchanged, the majority of today’s five million Canadian seniors may be forced out of their homes and into communal settings such as long-term care facilities. This will adversely affect their quality of life and further stress an already overburdened healthcare system.