Dr. Victor PaquetTechnology can help make many people’s lives much easier, but for those with certain physical or financial constraints, some technologies are literally out of reach. A computer can complete countless tasks, for example, but that’s not much help for someone with RA who cannot type.

That’s one example that Victor Paquet, associate professor of industrial and systems engineering at University at Buffalo, SUNY, shared in his talk “Smart Technologies for the Home and Office” at the 2016 ACR Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. Dr. Paquet is also co-director of the university’s Center for Excellence in Home Health and Well-Being through Adaptive Smart Environments (HomeBASE).

Early on in the talk, Dr. Paquet defined what a “smart” technology is. The acronym stands for self-monitoring, analysis and reporting technology. He shared a definition of the term “smart home” from SmartHomeUSA, a company that has operated since 1995:

“A residence that has appliances, lighting, heating, air conditioning, TVs, computers, entertainment audio and video systems, security, and camera systems that are capable of communicating with one another and can be controlled remotely by a time schedule, from any room in the home, as well as remotely from any location in the world by phone or internet.”

There are, of course, obstacles that can accompany those technologies, from affordability to intrusiveness. “I’m sure many of you have a pretty regimented routine. People like consistency in their lives,” Dr. Paquet said. “When a device interferes greatly with that routine, it can be a problem.”

For his talk, Dr. Paquet defined smart homes more broadly than SmartHomeUSA did. To him, a smart home ought to provide minimal intrusion, and it should adapt to individual users, including those with rheumatic disease.

“Many of the sensing/monitoring and communication technologies already exist and are affordable to at least some,” Dr. Paquet said.

He identified three potential tools that are particularly relevant to those with RA:

  1. Technologies that allow daily monitoring or reporting of symptoms and/or function in a passive way, with minimal intrusion to people’s daily lives. (ArthritisPower, a web-based and mobile application developed by CreakyJoints, falls into this category.)
  2. Social gaming applications and other tools, which encourage physical activity when prescribed; these tools can make painful and de-motivating exercise more fun.
  3. Smart devices that allow people to complete typical daily tasks that normally require high dexterity or mobility, such as turning lights on and off or unlocking and locking doors.

He showed slides of tools ranging from jar openers that don’t require strong grips to smart devices, like one that screws into a lamp below the lightbulb and allows the user to turn it on and off remotely.

Many of the home security devices that he showed cost hundreds of dollars each, and of course, they can add up quickly. “There are lots and lots of gadgets,” Dr. Paquet said.

The key, he said, is to recognize that people affect their environments, and the environments in turn affect people. Matching environments with people’s abilities ensures that technologies have a positive, rather than negative, impact.

“Smart homes will not solve everyone’s problems,” he said. “I would hope that people understand that there is no one ‘magic bullet’ for addressing the needs of those with rheumatic diseases, and that one should carefully consider the person, environment and what the technology will do first before purchasing and installing lots of gadgetry.”