Smart homes, when appropriately designed and incorporating suitable technologies, may be an ultimate goal by which older people can achieve independent living. Such a vision is beginning to emerge as smart homes are considered alongside developments in telemedicine, telecare, activity and lifestyle monitoring (discussed in Chapters Twelve and Thirteen). Social alarms can be seen as at the core of smart homes.
As noted by Fisk (2001, p 101) there is no single accepted definition of a smart home. At its broadest, a smart home is one where smart technologies are installed and where those technologies facilitate automatic or user-initiated communication involving a range of appliances, sensors, actuators and switches. Such communication takes place in ways that can empower people and, in so doing, improve their quality of life. Implicit in this definition is the notion that the same empowerment and improvement in quality of life would not be achieved in ordinary homes despite the fact that most of these would have a range of devices that operate independently of each other. Some would benefit from the presence of a social alarm. There is, in other words, something to be gained by communication in a way that adds to that offered by social alarms. This chapter explores the importance of that new way of communicating, specifically relates it to the needs of older people, and considers its impact on social alarms. In doing so it attempts to capture the ways in which smart technologies can help to promote engagement and social inclusion as well as support the independent living of their users.
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