Forget Star Wars and robots working on assembly lines. One of the most innovative uses of new technology will soon be found in a seniors’ village in Alexandria.

“This will be the first development that we know of anywhere that uses technology to monitor and enhance seniors’ lives, and keep them safe,” claims Will Ball, President of Innovative Housing Alternatives (IHA) Canada.

“Sensors installed in every unit and connected to a central command post will monitor the tenants to help prevent falls, respond to needs for help and keep track of those who may have cognitive issues.”

IHA Canada, which is funding the project, intends to start building the first phase of the project this fall. Ball points out that local retirement homes cost approximately $3,000 per month per person, which can be well beyond the means of many seniors. The new units will start renting at $1,400 per month and include 24-hour-per-day access to the command centre, staffed by nurses and personal care workers.

“We need to stop warehousing seniors who may be vulnerable and give them as much freedom and support as they need to remain active and part of the community,” Ball says.

Voice-activated help

Each unit will be equipped with a full kitchen, living room, bathroom and one bedroom or one bedroom with a den. Units will be furnished but with space for personal keepsakes. They will be especially attractive to couples where one partner is well but the other is living with some dementia.  The sensors will register any unusual activity in the units, such as a fall or an inability to get out of bed and notify the command centre, which by voice-activated technology, will query if the resident needs help or not.

A real bonus will be follow-up appointments with medical specialists. Using technology, the central nursing command centre will set up and facilitate appointments with the doctors involved through the use of communication technology, eliminating the need to travel as much as possible, and providing little disturbance in day-to-day life.

The new village will also help residents to be as active as possible. Sidewalks and driveways will be heated to keep them free from ice and snow, and the village will have commercial operations such as a coffee shop or a hairdressing salon scattered among the homes that are specifically tailored to the wants and needs of the seniors living there. There will be garden spaces, greenhouses and scenic walks, as well as meeting spaces where residents can socialize and participate in inter-generational learning. “We want to encourage people to pursue new interests in retirement,” Ball says. The village will also be pet-friendly.

No public or taxpayer financing

IHA is footing the entire cost of developing the village, with no funding from any local, provincial or federal governments or institutions. The initial development calls for 80 to 100 units but IHA hopes within 10 years to have 700 to 800 units available. The first units should be available by late 2020.

“Our main objective is to give seniors a safe and affordable environment,” notes Ball. Aside from the round the clock medical services which are included, other services a senior might need, such as meal delivery, housekeeping or transportation, will be available on an à la carte basis so that residents will only pay for what they want or need.

The units range in size from 450 square feet to 850 square feet and will be fully automated. If a resident gets up in the night to go to the bathroom, the system will turn the bathroom light on. The system can also be turned off should a resident not need or want it.

“We have done focus groups and talked with hundreds of seniors to refine the design of the village and give people the sense of security and freedom they want,” Ball says. And it’s coming soon to a galaxy not far away from you.