WiFi Sensing for Senior Independence

ISPs are well placed to provide new remote care offerings that make a valuable difference for caregivers and their families. With 45 million Americans (or 1 in 6 adults) already taking care of an aging loved one, the ability to provide remote care services to a customer base that’s actively searching for them is a great way to grow ARPU. But more importantly, caregivers are critically important influencers in the connectivity decisions for their aging parents - so useful features aimed at family caregivers are also an attractive way to acquire new managed WiFi customers.

Many aging parents enjoy a life of independence and don’t want to be labeled as “old”, so it can be tricky for families to offer support when the time comes. That’s where zero-effort technologies come in: assistance that isn’t intrusive or stigmatizing. Modern technologies, like WiFi Sensing, provide remote care options that don’t require additional hardware or effort to use and ultimately aid empowerment. To understand how WiFi Sensing works, visualize how a finger generates ripples in a pond. Similarly, movements in one’s home creates tiny ripples in the invisible wireless waves that are all around. These ripples can be leveraged to characterize motion and presence. The result, WiFi Sensing, connects families, enables passive monitoring of loved ones and establishes peace of mind, all without the baggage of a wearable sensor. Those that balk at more intrusive technologies (e.g. a fall pendant) aren’t in denial about growing old, they’re just reluctant to be seen that way. That’s precisely where WiFi Sensing shines: invisibly maintaining one’s freedom, privacy and daily routine, while offering peace of mind.

Humanity’s Crowning Achievement - Long Life

Thanks to modern science, people are living longer than our ancestors could have ever imagined, a trend that is set to continue well into the future. When the retirement age of 65 was created, the average person didn’t yet live that long. An extended retirement, or even any retirement at all, was an unusual exception.

Yet today, this gift of extra life is not without its challenges. Time still takes its toll on each of us, especially as we reach our 80’s (see figure 2 below). As we age, it becomes far more difficult to get by without the help of those around us. Eventually, many require full-time assistance or a move to congregate living that offers additional support. It’s a challenge that nearly every family eventually contends with.

Figure 2 : Aging and physical condition
Figure 2 : Aging and physical condition

Fortunately, innovation means that we can both extend our lives and help enjoy a fulfilling and independent retirement too. That’s where zero-effort technologies come in.

Supporting Independence is a Sensitive Topic

Zero-effort technologies solve one of the most intractable problems of aging - how to help an aging relative that insists they don’t need it. It’s one of the most difficult conversations you can have with an aging parent. Little surprise then that many fail to be proactive about such conversations. Sadly, it’s often an incident like a fall that forces families to confront the need for help. Proactive support is highly desirable, but incredibly difficult. To provide such support, families must:

    • Preserve freedom. That means preserving an elder’s control and privacy.
    • Enhance rather than take away. Independence is about empowerment and growing one’s capabilities, not limiting them.
    • Protect from stigma. Nobody wants a form of assistance that might flag and stigmatize them amongst their peers. Even if someone needs a walking stick, they’ll tend to hide it away when guests come over rather than keep it in the open. As a result, it’s important to ensure that assistive technologies are discrete and invisible while simultaneously providing the critical insights required by a remote loved-one.

    Home WiFi connectivity meets all these requirements. It enables freedom and autonomy, and empowers one’s capabilities. Far from being stigmatizing, WiFi connectivity creates new bragging rights: whether it’s sitting down with friends to enjoy the latest commercial-free streaming content, boasting about video conferencing with the grandkids, or commanding your smart speaker to play your favorite music. It’s also a natural place for younger family members to get involved - older relatives are often happy to receive assistance or even outsource their technology decisions entirely. Ingrid Svahn (85) describes her experience:

    “Other family members discuss what kind of technology I need. They discuss whether I should install Wi-Fi or not. I do not know how the discussion will end. I might buy a tablet.”

    A WiFi Sensing capable home router, is the perfect zero-effort technology. Not only is connectivity empowering (with innumerable benefits) but it’s an area where help and guidance from families is already actively being sought. It’s the easiest way imaginable to provide passive assistance that’s of value without invoking many of the sensitivities that other forms of assistance would involve. Let’s take a look at how WiFi Sensing works and what it offers.

    WiFi Sensing - The Perfect WiFi Enhancement for Caregivers

    As described above, much like how a finger generates ripples in a pond, movements in one’s home creates tiny ripples in the invisible wireless waves that are all around us. For those old enough to have experience with a TV or radio antenna, you might have noticed that movement around the antenna affects the reception. With the aid of powerful advanced Artificial Intelligence and signal processing, these tiny wireless disturbances can be used to infer and measure activities and motions within the home. Incredibly, no additional hardware is required to pick up these tiny “ripples” in the wireless signal, they can be retrieved via standard WiFi routers.

    Monitoring these tiny wireless waves doesn’t create any “images” of what’s happening in the home (just like observing ripples in water doesn’t yield an image of a finger), helping to put many privacy concerns to rest. Instead, Artificial Intelligence (AI) based WiFi Sensing infers motion and presence while avoiding false alarms (filtering out the motion of pets for example). It is inherently suited to learn typical behaviors and patterns - making it easy to identify and alert family members when something out-of-the-ordinary occurs in a family member’s routine. That extra degree of confidence is a welcome reassurance given some of the challenges with wearable pendants. One study found that 24 percent of Personal Emergency Response Users (PERS) never wore their pendant, while only 14% wore it 24 hours a day. Perhaps even more concerning, 83% of the users who fell alone and remained on the floor longer than five minutes reported that they did not activate the device.

    WiFi Sensing connects families and establishes peace of mind, but without the baggage of wearable sensors. Further, because the system harnesses the power of AI, it never stops learning. As a result, the performance will continue to improve over time, opening up new applications and features in the months and years to come. Current features of Aerial’s Remote Care application include (with more in our roadmap):

    • Daily, Weekly and Monthly Activity Metrics
    • Nightly Sleep Metrics and Interruptions
    • Behavioral Analysis and Anomaly Detection
    • Alert Notifications
    • Pet Motion Filtering

    And best of all, because it works with existing WiFi hardware, there aren’t any sensors to install, hardware to wear, or batteries to change. That means it’s trivial to implement at an exceptionally low cost. Further, Aerial Remote Care provides continuous and uninterrupted operation in situations (like a bath or shower for example) where pendants will often get removed. This zero-effort technology is invisible, so no awkward questions by peers and none of the stigma that’s often associated with typical assistive devices such as alert pendants or hearing aids.

    Family Caregivers Could Use a Hand

    In 2020, an estimated 45 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult. That’s around 1 in every 6 adults.

    In 2020, an estimated 45 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult. That’s around 1 in every 6 adults. Who are these caregivers? All the people around us: friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Asking around reveals that caring for one’s aging parents or loved ones is an extremely common lived experience, but also a very challenging one as well. In addition to the daily stress and emotions of caregiving, caregiving takes a substantial commitment of time and effort, “21% of caregivers perform 21-40 hours of care per week, and 30% care for 41 or more hours per week.”

    Caregivers help their loved ones because they want to. It’s an important chance to give back to the people who have made a great difference in their lives. They’re the unsung heroes of our health and care system; a system that couldn’t cope without this informal care and the millions of family members that provide it. So what help is it that caregivers most need?

    Long hours mean that caregivers are chronically short on time. That’s a key barrier when it comes to caregiving technologies. Many aren’t aware of the options that could help them with their circumstances. Remote care solutions must be easy to implement and use. Technologies must integrate into their lives with clear benefits and a minimum of effort. While 71% profess interest in caregiving technologies, the two biggest barriers to adoption are awareness and cost.

    One area of particular interest to caregivers is technology that can help connect them to a loved one, offering peace of mind and that they’re well, even when they’re apart. For example:

    • Alerts when a loved-one needs urgent care (72.4% interest)
    • Ability to remotely check in on a loved one (76.4% interest)
    • Monitoring daily patterns (59.0% interest), with 6.8% already using this technology

    There’s a compelling opportunity to address the gap between the high degree of interest in caregiving technologies, and their low adoption rates. That means making these offerings more accessible and affordable to time strapped caregivers, while limiting their intrusiveness for loved ones. A report on “Caregivers and Technology” sums it up:

    “Caregivers really do want the ability to detect emergency events. But they aren’t willing to purchase, setup, or use bulky and expensive technology (especially if it requires upkeep) just to get alerted for a rare event. They want near-invisible or barely-there solutions that they don’t have to think about until they need it.”

    Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are Well-Placed to Make a Valuable Difference

    All these conditions mean ISPs are well placed to offer new WiFi Sensing offerings that make a valuable difference for caregivers and their families.

    The enormous number of American family members (45 million) caring for aging relatives means that caregivers and their loved ones are already a significant portion of every ISPs customer base. Often, caregivers are already involved (whether visible or not) in influencing the household connectivity decisions of their loved ones. For ISPs, a tailored WiFi Sensing offering to family caregivers is a once in a generation cross-selling opportunity:

    • Aging parents are already grappling with (and seeking help for) connectivity decisions.
    • Time strapped caregivers actively seek simple affordable ways to connect remotely
    • Caregivers want easy solutions from those they trust. They don’t want the hassle of setting up equipment for infrequent events, or dealing with multiple specialized apps.
    • Unlike many other forms of assistance, a “gift” of connectivity is useful and empowering
    • It’s invisible, private, effortless, and without stigma - making it easier to adopt proactively

    For ISPs, targeted caregiver opportunities make it easier than ever for families to get involved in the WiFi decisions of their loved ones with a positive impact on caregivers and aging relatives alike. For the ISP there are at least three main financial opportunities for WiFi Sensing:

    • Increase ARPU by selling a valuable (but easy to activate) service to caregivers for an appealing monthly fee, but at virtually no additional marginal cost.
    • Acquire market share from competitors. By “gifting” wireless connectivity to aging relatives (while at the same time enjoying new caregiving features) ISPs can leverage the influence that caregivers have on household connectivity decisions.
    • Connect disconnected households. For aging households that are without connectivity, marketing a caregiving option provides a useful process for “gifting” and installing new connectivity and services that offer a direct caregiver benefit.

    ISPs are well positioned to improve household access to affordable remote care. It’s a natural way to extend the value of existing home connectivity packages without the typical stigma of home monitoring or emergency pendants. But most importantly, ISPs are in a position to strengthen their brand by making people’s lives better in a meaningful way. From the ISP perspective, Aerial's Remote Care Solution is trivial to implement while providing an invaluable service to family caregivers and their loved ones. It’s a simple way to make an important and meaningful social contribution to those who are at greatest risk while monetizing existing WiFi infrastructure.

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