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Smart homes for the elderly of rural Oklahoma: A strategy for ethical implementation

Higgins, Rachel N.
Smart homes, telemedicine, and robots are often proposed as solutions to the upcoming problem of providing care to millions of older adults. The number of elderly in need of care has risen substantially, the number of available caretakers has not kept pace with demand, and this disparity will only increase as the Baby Boomer generation ages. The care of the elderly, which results in dependency on their part, conflicts with the strong individualism of American society, sometimes causing difficulties between the patient and caretaker(s) when making care decisions. Thus, many ethical concerns have been voiced about smart home technology, from privacy issues to fears of isolation (Fritz, 2015). These concerns vary based on the cultural background of the elderly user, with upper-middle class users feeling more comfortable with the technology (Fritz, 2015). Rural users, who are most in need of the technology due to having fewer nearby healthcare providers, and dementia users, who are in need of the technology to help manage their illness during the early stages while living at home, are the ones who tend to distrust the technology the most (Fritz, 2015). Smart home implementation for the elderly has progressed rapidly in recent years, but research has fallen behind in the sense of connecting theory and practice (Berridge, 2018). As a way to address this, the author proposes a study with researchers in the Dept. of Telemedicine at the OSU Medical School in Tulsa of the rural elderly in Oklahoma, since Oklahoma has approved insurance reimbursement for telemedicine, that would be expanded to include assistive technologies for smart homes in order to try to develop a participatory model for the ethical diffusion of this technology on a mass level.