How the Internet of Things will Improve Living for the Impaired, Disabled and Elderly



Industry marketing focus surrounding IoT targets lofty huge projects like Smart Cities or the latest gadget device that all too often seems to be created just because they could.  As part of my daily routine, I read copious numbers of articles on IoT and IIOT, while healthcare related IoT materials are on the increase, a gap exists in the application of connected devices to aide those who have some impairment, are disabled or elderly.  The issue in part is marketing related, the remainder is technological, soon however, with longer life expectancy, improved and improving healthcare, and a growing number of elderly, market demand will garner great attention to this sector.

Applications of current technology

The landscape is not a desert.  Press coverage of healthcare IoT is predominantly hospital focused with discussions of adding data to a patient’s medical record automatically when various machines are utilized for treatment.  In addition, hospital energy savings with industrial lighting and HVAC controls or things like inventory control are all great stuff, and this is just the beginning, but let’s explore how IoT can impact life at home for those who need a little assistance.

Internet of Medical Things, another acronym with popularity growth, contains in part devices like the Fitbit, IIP-enabled blood pressure devices, weight scales and a growing list of active or passive monitoring devices.  These are all wonderful applications of technology, much of it coming from the consumer gadget ranks, spilling over and combining with mainstream healthcare devices. Those devices are now producing huge amounts of data, valuable data that is not being fully utilized.

Bring on the bots!

Yes that Fitbit data is more important that we recognize, but we need to apply data science and AI techniques to condense all this sensory data into concise reports that can be simply and regularly uploaded into a patient’s medical record for the doctor’s use.  Let’s face it, no doctor is going to look at all those points of data collection to find a trend, however if a monthly, bi-annually, or annual report is defined to show trending changes in the patient, physicians will use the report as well as gain insights previously undiscovered. As an example, consider an elderly patient who uses a Fitbit type device that collects or can collect data on activity, exercise, food, weight and sleep.  If over the period of a year the amount of steps recorded is on a down trend, weight is increasing as well as heart rate, the physician would be armed with data that might predicate testing, initiate an exercise / diet discussion or just to stimulate a wider conversation than normal. Point in time routine tests would not trigger the same health alert that a regularly monitored patient’s data record might indicate. This is where AI and health-bots become applicable,  using these devices in an IoT sense, data can be transferred in an encrypted fashion to the medical facility on a regular basis, loading automatically to the correct patient record in a database, and with patient profile parameters and AI analysis, the data can be parsed, condensed and converted to simple reports.  If a patient’s data load suddenly triggers a concern when compared to normalized data, the physician can be notified along with the patient, facilitating the need for an office visit or additional testing.


Adapting gadgetry

Some IoT consumer gadgetry can be directly used or adapted into health consumerism. However there are some caveats that we will explore later.  Wi-Fi or internet connected lighting can rapidly be deployed for those with limited mobility. Connected home appliances and technology like TV remote automation, thermostat control, voice control (Alexa or Google), or remote cameras can be installed to assist those in need. What is missing today is not the technology, what is missing are services and training focused specifically to the impaired and elderly. An overlooked marketplace for devices already in production, I’m sure that won’t be for long.   Soon I expect geek squad like services, with training for that market sector, training in community centers, vetted devices with developed methodologies for installation and support with easy to follow manuals and ongoing service / support designed to help those who are aging or impaired.

Here is that piece of proverbial low hanging fruit, the Witti design Dotti !  The Dotti is marketed as a small pixel art light with notifications.  Ok? But the Witti marketing department is neglecting a sector where this device could be so much more, without doing anything but adapting the marketing plan.  Six months ago, I was in one of the local big box tech stores and saw the Dotti on the shelf at a substantial discount. I bought one as many have and will, because it is a cool looking gadget, it will notify you of all your social media notifications by your preference and configuration, and it will notify you visually of calls, missed calls, text messages and calendar events.  Wait, what?  Yep a large flashing red phone visual when your phone rings or you miss a call!  That singular functionality could help so many who have hearing disability or are might leave their phone sitting around, unlike today’s youth who are permanently tethered to their devices.  In my testing, I placed the Dotti in my garage and went about my outside business without my phone in hand. (outside yard work is not the best for cell phone survival) while mowing the grass out of the corner of my eye some 200 feet away I saw the flashing red phone icon, yep I missed a call and my attention was quickly drawn to the flashing red phone.  Applicability extends to text messages or your schedule, the flashing calendar and yes it will let you know you have Twitter or Facebook notifications if you must. This is Bluetooth connected, so an internet connection is not mandatory.  Witti, I’m coming to discuss marketing soon!

What can be and will be

Futurist predictions are often over promised, inflated or the foundation for the next buzzword, however I think these are safe bets that will soon become reality.  Virtual wellness checks. Wouldn’t it be great to know if Mom or Grandma was OK from anywhere in the world? Defining wellness though events in the living quarters is not particularly difficult.  Movement within the space, temperature changes, device usage, even Wi-Fi / IP connections can be used as an intelligent determination of wellness through action. Add the growing market of connected appliances and connected cars, Uber / Lyft automation and notification and you have all the components of building a normal living profile. While in the broader view there are gaps to overcome with security, privacy and defining parameters, and nothing replaces person to person communications, most of us have experienced those times where we haven’t talked to a loved one and some small reassurance of their activity would provide piece of mind.

As home data collection extends through connected appliances, the ability to monitor our food intake, from store or online order to final consumption will support comparative data points between our body stats and food consumption providing people and our medical professionals an improved correlation and a basis for health to diet planning. I will boldly state that dietary consumption to body health statistics like blood pressure, body mass, heart rates and exercise have the propensity to reduce the amount of pharmaceuticals that today are increasingly prescribed as we age.  Again, this will best be implemented using AI and bots for consolidation and analysis of the data but it reduces what today would be a laborious manual task that would soon be abandoned because of a lack of discipline. Let’s face it, while important, the time and effort required to manually record the individual datum will never be a reality for most of us, and isn’t that the core of automation?


Are we there yet?

Well, sort of.  The devices and sensory objects exist, are being refined and will continue to grow and be developed. However as many of us are all too familiar, we have security issues with IoT, that is not going away, ever.  What I have preached for some time is developing security from a symbiotic hardware and software perspective. Start with the design of the device, don’t compromise for cost.  I would prefer an industry standard and UL type independent safety and security approval over legislation, but we live in a place where buzz becomes the basis for law.  Let’s move towards standards before we get additional lawyers and lawmakers involved.  Government programs like NIST’s cybersecurity for IoT hold promise as well with efforts that include standards ad guidance.

Connectivity hardening and offline data collection need to happen.  Internet providers and IP, in general, is not totally dependable. There is an entire article in examining why.  In part, this issue stems from the DIY home user’s naivety, but extends to device manufacturers, cybersecurity ne’er-do-well’s and changing infrastructure.    Internet connections where IP becomes as dependable as dial tone was in days of yore aren’t quite here yet, but IP infrastructure is evolving, ranging from 5G to municipal Wi-Fi, Fiber to home and mesh networking I am confident in future dependability.   We need the ability to store data during outages to maintain collected data, store and forward is a legacy concept that is applicable to fill the gap when power or internet disruption occurs.  Home edge devices will develop. Expect a simplified/reduced form of industrial edge devices, where each connected user in the home has a storage profile that will collect, normalize, and hopefully preprocess data prior to upload the final destination.  We aren’t there yet, but we are well down the road.

Voice control is a component I have mentioned but not highlighted specifically, because of the aforementioned dependability of internet connections. It would be wonderful for anyone with an impairment to have the capability of issuing a voice command to turn on room lights, outside lights, the thermostat or change the TV channel.  However, can you imagine the frustration someone who is technology enhanced or perhaps technology dependent, if every device was back in manual mode because their connection is down?  One solution which I think will happen sooner than later is local command and control. Envision an embedded local device built into a future version of the Echo or Google home that retains all the profiles and commands used within the connected home, allowing the locally Wi-Fi connected devices to work normally during the outage. Fault tolerance for the home.  While you temporarily won’t be able to ask for current weather or order a pizza, your connected home will function normally until the connection is reinstated.   This leaves electrical power as the final foot stuck out to trip us up, and if the power fails, best grab a candle and the battery powered radio, call the provider and take a nap.

This is surface scratching, hopefully, thought provoking, because past the common impairments and age related support there is an entire growing tech market of biometrics, automated prosthetics, IP medical devices, video devices, video docs and medical record automation. All of which we will explore in future conversations and articles.

The future of the connected home is also a place for the Internet of Medical Things, the Internet of Things supporting the impaired and all the services, training and support that goes along with them.  The entirety of internet connected devices, the data that is rich in value, and the life improvements, both in health and activity will make this market relevant, significant, and most importantly helpful to those with need.

Like always, keep your bits out of the bucket.