VA interested in smart home tech to enable veterans to age in place

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) is seeking to provide more support to military veterans who want to age in place in their current homes. This includes exploration of the smart-home technology sector, according to reporting at the Federal News Network.

Smart home tech, including wearable devices like smart watches, could help flag instances when an older veteran living independently is having some kind of medical emergency. But Joseph Ronzio, the VA’s deputy chief health technology officer, added that the department wants to ensure that veterans are involved in who has access to their data.

“Everyone nowadays has some smartness in their home, whether it’s a speaker, whether it’s light switches, whether it’s different types of lights or other physical devices — cameras, motion detectors that leave a digital service,” Ronzio explained at the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center (ATARC)’s DevSecOps Summit during a panel moderated by the Federal News Network.

“Most of the time we’re not able to access that digital footprint because it’s kept in a cloud service or a cloud system, and that’s masking to us what’s going on,” he said. “We’ve been able to implement some technologies that have actually been able to unmask it, and then evaluate what is the best kind of [health impact] and then start detecting where there’s problems.”

Technology-focused personnel at the VA view the situation in personal terms. Chief health technology officer Craig Luigart, himself a disabled veteran, feels his smart watch has saved him “multiple times,” according to Ronzio. It has alerted his family members when he has had a medical emergency, and the department is aware of the aging-in-place applications these tools can offer.

“As we look more and more towards our veteran population who are aging in place and look at the need for skilled nursing beds and skilled nursing facilities over the long haul, or nursing homes, there’s definitely a need for this capability to be refined and developed,” Ronzio explained.

The VA already helps to provide home modifications with an eye toward increasing accessibility for later-life challenges. It is now providing senior veterans with certain smart-home tech to better enable their aging in place, Ronzio explained.

“We are providing those sensors and those technologies,” he said. ”Now we just have to peel the onion on this and start building better algorithms to detect and share that data with caregivers — whether that’s a spouse, whether that’s a child, whether it’s a loved one, whether it’s a friend of the family.”

Recently, technology is taking up more of the conversation around aging in place, particularly as smart-home technology has become more prevalent through U.S. tech giants like Amazon, Apple and Google, and as more seniors continue to prefer aging in place.

Recent surveys conducted in 2023 and 2024 by U.S. News & World Report found that 93% of respondents view aging in place as an “important goal.” The respondents also listed specific technologies as most helpful toward an aging-in-place goal.

These were focused primarily on medical- or health-related mobile apps; service-related apps like food and grocery delivery; wearable medical or health trackers; assistive smart-home technologies like Google Home or Amazon Alexa devices; hearing assistance devices; and medical alert systems and devices like LifeAlert.

Research data from 2023 also found that for seniors who may be on the fence about remaining in their homes, smart tech tools could help ease such concerns.

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