Smart home to point way to new types of services for people with disabilities Credit: NotionSupplied Art
Business Management

Smart home to point way to new types of services for people with disabilities

A purpose-built smart home for people with intellectual disabilities is due to open in Melbourne next month, featuring a suite of technologies aimed at improving the residents’ care.

The home – run by Australia’s third largest private hospital operator St John of God Health Care – will trial the use of wearables, smartphone apps, voice assistants, sensors and artificial intelligence, tailored for five residents who have cognitive issues and secondary conditions such as epilepsy, cerebral palsy and blindness.

The aim of the smart home, which is situated in the suburb of East Brighton is to make residents less reliant on carers, “reduce restrictive practices” and generate data for St John of God to improve its service.

Among the features of the home are doors that lock and unlock depending on which resident is trying to use them. One of the residents is prone to absconding and not road-safe, meaning it would be dangerous for him to leave the property unassisted.

“By using technology, we can determine when that particular person is going near the door and the door then can be locked to stop him going out,” said St John of God’s executive director of community services Kevin Taylor.

“When he’s not around, the other clients can actually go out. It’s not restricting them from going in and out. Also, we’ve got the opportunity whereby, because we’re having a front gate, that he may well be able to go out the front door of the house into the garden, but he’s then stopped from going out onto the road where he will be unsafe,” Taylor explained.

Amazon Alexa is being used to slowly increase the lighting, roll up the blinds, and turn on calming music in the mornings, while tablets display what’s for dinner, which caregivers are rostered, and what is planned for the day, helping to reduce anxiety.

“Many of the clients, unless they are woken up by the carer won’t get up. The aim is this is providing technology to assist them to do that, independent of the carer,” Taylor said.

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For one resident, the technology will prompt them to go to the bathroom.

“We have another individual, for instance, that needs to be reminded to go to the bathroom. If they don’t, then they end up with all sorts of urinary tract infections, all sorts of problems. What we’re trying to do is to get technology to remind that individual such that then it gives them a little bit more dignity because it’s not one person reminding somebody else and they’re actually independent of the actual carer that’s there,” Taylor said.

A number of tech companies have contributed to the project. HomeStay curated the technologies and provided an AI-enabled monitoring system including data hub, mobile device app and safety alert system; Samsung contributed tablets, wearables and virtual reality devices; Quantify Technology provided smart home lighting, blinds, power outlet devices and the Qumulus cloud; Signify pitched in colour therapy lighting and motion sensor technology; BCDS Group the secure access control; and Work M8 the incident response and carer duress platform.

St John of God, which runs 36 supported-living homes, and provides a range of services to about 1000 people with intellectual disability, invested $875,000 in the project.

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Taylor said the prototype home could serve as a “blueprint for the sector”.

Deakin University is conducting a pre-move and post-move study to determine the impact of the smart home on the quality of the lives of residents.

“The intention is for the blueprint to be repeatable and scalable to larger accommodation settings, and very, very importantly for family homes where parents are the carers for children and adults with disabilities or elderly loved ones,” said HomeStay’s chief innovation officer Sherry Swanson.

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