Tech built for outer space, and retirees
social technology, with 44 per cent of over-75s going online, half engaging with social media and a quarter of this age group using tablets.
To cater to these residents, Audley installs superfast broadband as standard in all its developments. At its new site, Nightingale Place near Clapham Common in south London, there are programmable security fobs to access apartments, room sensors and pressure pads in bedrooms that can tell when people have risen from bed. When completed next year, it will have 94 one, two and three-bedroom flats as well as a restaurant, pool and health club.
Jenny Hyde, 77, moved to Anchor’s Hampshire Lakes retirement village in Yateley in January 2016. A high-speed internet connection was a must-have, she says: “I use it constantly for sending emails to my friends who don’t live locally, downloading my newspaper, booking theatre tickets or a trip abroad and as part of my voluntary work as a school governor, which involves online training courses and assessments.”
Christopher Goddard, chairman of housebuilder Renaissance Retirement, recognises the importance of providing high-speed broadband to residents. “As a developer it is our responsibility for our homes to be built in a way that ensures advanced services are available to all our owners,” he said.
“We supply the infrastructure that allows them to purchase the internet package that best suits their needs.”
Keith Diment, 81, was in IT for 30 years and depends on a good broadband connection for his wide range of online activities, including banking, consuming news, communicating with family and designing websites. Diment, who is married to Jenny, 78, lives in Renaissance Retirement’s Fleur-deLis development in Wantage, Oxfordshire. “I spend quite a lot of time sitting in front of my computer and would hate to be without a good broadband connection,” he says.
A strong network isn’t just needed to connect residents to the world wide web; it can also connect objects to each other. The “internet of things”, emerging technology that links household items such as heating and kitchen appliances, is now making life easier for older people.
Home management systems from brands such as Nest and Hive can control heat settings throughout the whole house if it is difficult for the homeowner to move around.
These can be programmed to turn on and off at various times of day and can even be managed remotely. Along these lines, luxury retirement operator Brio Retirement Living is equipping owners with a dedicated control system called My Home Up. It adjusts temperature and ventilation, and offers communication with on-site staff, as well as family and friends.
Such technology can also help keep people healthy. Some retirement providers are looking into how devices that listen to spoken commands and respond, such as the Amazon Echo and its virtual assistant Alexa, can benefit older people who may react more positively to hearing a friendly voice.
Technology can also help with physio, building strength and getting people exercising. LifeCare Residences, which operates Battersea Place in London, has introduced its owners to a hi-tech cloudbased fitness programme called HUR SmartTouch. Developed in Finland for the over-70s, it offers exercises that benefit the legs, shoulders, arms and back. Owners log on to machines with a HUR SmartTouch wristband, which sets the seat to the right height and the machine to the correct resistance.
“While it’s still early days, the response has been overwhelming,” says Rob Whistlecroft from HUR SmartTouch. He says that more than 30 per cent of owners at Battersea Place now undertake strength training using the programme.
“I’ve seen so many success stories,” he adds. “One participant, for example, is 167 per cent stronger than she was last year. But that’s just the start of her transformation – the real change is in her confidence in herself and the ease at which she can be active in her dayto-day life.”
At Hampshire Lakes, an award-winning Dutch innovation renowned for its cutting-edge approach to dementia care is transforming the lives of those in Willow Gardens, its on-site care lights, and smart plugs that allow him to turn on the electric blanket, printer and bedroom light from the comfort of his armchair.
He’s also installed a solar-powered motion-sensor light on the front door, which illuminates the lock, and sensors in the kitchen and bathroom that turn the lights on when anyone enters the room.
“Motion-sensitive lighting is good for people who can’t find a light switch in the dark, and also if they are carrying food from the kitchen – it means they don’t have to find a free hand to turn the light off,” he says.
“Retirement operators should install smart plugs in all their properties. It saves bending down behind the sofa if the plugs are in awkward positions, which can be dangerous.”
While systems such as the Tovertafel may be beyond the price range of your typical downsizer, retirement technology doesn’t have to be cost-prohibitive. Bailey says: “It only costs about £25 for a set of three smart plugs and a remote.”
Keith and Jenny Diment, left; an Amazon Echo, above; Battersea Place resident Susie Balfour with HUR trainer Rob Whistlecroft, above right