We live in an exciting time when smart speakers with voice assistants do more than just play music but will do whatever we tell it to. With the emergence of voice recognition technology, smart speakers such as Alexa play a huge role in helping the seniors age well. Now there are devices seniors can use to help them schedule their day, set alarms for med refills, and contact emergency services—all through using their voice. It all arguably started with the Amazon Echo, but there are now dozens of smart speakers to choose from. Fast forward to today: a whopping 53 million adults in the United States own about 120 million+ smart voice speakers. That’s a 78% increase compared to 2017- 2018, says latest reports. The use of Alexa for senior living makes as much sense as the use of the technology for any other population.
How Voice Recognition Has Innovated Over Time
The roots of voice recognition technology go back to the 1950s. Over time, it has expanded; some of the notable developments include:
- Voice command identification via Bluetooth (i.e, sending messages or making hands-free calls)
- Speech recognition systems in mobile phone
- Speech into text conversion for the elderly with speech and hearing disabilities
These then transformed into allowing gadgets/devices to host ‘virtual assistants,’ which can help people complete daily tasks, communicate with dear ones, and be an assistant wherever the smart speaker is. A 2018 survey found that almost 7.3% of America’s senior population uses a smart speaker at least once a month.
Alexa: a smart speaker for Senior Living
Social isolation and depression that often results from it pose health risks in elderly adults. Like any other group, seniors need more human connections and support. It’s true that loved ones can’t always be there. That’s where a voice speaker comes into play.
What makes Alexa special is how valuable she can be for seniors. With an Amazon Echo, Alexa keeps seniors stay active, engaged, and healthy in their home or senior living community. How? From today’s weather, traffic, and news to controlling smart home devices, she does it all. With Alexa-enabled connected devices and smart home gadgets, it’s possible to create a safer and caring space.
Assisted Living facilities can also benefit most from installing Alexa – it’s easy to keep a family of residents up to date on what is going on at the facility.
Most Popular Uses of Smart Speakers for Seniors
Smart speakers such as make a great personal assistant for the elderly to maintain their independence. Many use Alexa similarly. From reminders to alarms and phone calls. Here’s a compilation of the most popular uses of Alexa for seniors.
- She’s an amazing bedtime partner
If the seniors need to get up early for a doctor’s appointment or even if they simply want to wake up to their favorite song, Alexa does it all. Thanks to Alexa Routines, they can blend soothing bedtime music, sleep sounds, light or radio stations.
- Alexa reminds when to take pills
Between caregiving, running errands, and other responsibilities, it’s a great relief that Alexa is there to remind what medications to give and when. When it’s time, Alexa chimes out “Here’s your reminder.” and then she repeats twice. Create a one-time or recurring reminder by simply stating: “Alexa, remind me to give enalapril at 4:00 PM”.
- Alexa eliminates senior moments
Elderly parents or grandparents can ask Alexa to remember details they tend to forget or rarely have to recall. Just tell Alexa to keep track of, say, when to renew insurance policy or what grandchildren likes the most. It’s great for holiday gift-giving.
- Alexa answers to any questions
Seniors with dementia often repeat questions endlessly, get anxious when children or caregivers leave their side. But ask Alexa ‘what’s the weather like’ and she’ll answer over and over and over, each time as patiently as the last. Therapists say that when dementia patients get answers to all questions, they feel less confused and more comfortable.
- Place Phone Calls
The smart calling feature turns Alexa into a landline of sorts. Sync an elderly loved one’s phone to Alexa so they can call anyone in their contacts, as well as local businesses. Yes, Alexa doesn’t support calls to 911. However, with an Echo Connect (in addition to an Echo device), seniors can say, “Alexa, call 911”.
- An antidote to isolation
With Alexa’s Drop-In feature, one can ask Alexa to “drop-in” to another room in the same house. For example, if granny is in her bedroom and caregiver in the living, the voice assistant in her room can connect to the one in the living room.
- Alerts to severe weather
If cold or rain make an elderly loved one’s joint hurt, now caregivers can know in advance whether they should reach out for painkillers. Enable notifications on the Echo; The AccuWeather skill will send notifications.
- Alexa is an excellent entertainer
The smart voice assistant can play music and podcasts, videos available with Amazon Prime, or read audiobooks. Just say, “Alexa, play NPR,” or “Alexa, play ‘Fly Me To The Moon’.
- Alexa makes the purchase easy
Once the device is linked to an Amazon account, seniors can order drugs or groceries:“Alexa, reorder Cetaphil cleansing bar and paper towels”. This feature can be used by the elderly as well as the caregiver.
- Turning out the Lights. Adjusting the Thermostat.
This is indeed a smart (and safe) skill that goes well beyond just making calls and listening to music. The elderly can simply call out and tell Alexa to turn on/off the lights or adjust smart home appliance settings.
Skills are nothing but the word for the many things Alexa can do. They’re like apps and, once the Echo device has them, users can bring skills to life. Alexa skills come in a variety of categories, including Smart Home, Games, Trivia & Accessories, Music & Audio, Weather and more.
More than 70,000 skills (and counting) are available on Alexa Skills Store. All Alexa skills are free, though some require a one-time purchase to unlock bonus levels or game packs.
Talking about using Alexa skills, most of them are accessed by instructing Alexa to “open/play/start [invocation name] [request].”
- Open the Alexa app on the smartphone
- Click on the hamburger menu (in the top left corner)
- Then click ‘Skills & Games’ in the drop-down
- Choose the desired skill from the ‘Discover’ or ‘Categories’ section. Or just tap on the magnifying glass icon to search for a specific skill.
One of the recent updates Alexa received is what Amazon calls ‘Routines’. Essentially, it’s a way to set
up a series of skills that users want to hear Alexa do. Here’s how a typical happens when morning routine may look like:
Wake up in the morning and say “Good morning Alexa”
She instantly responds with “Good morning (name)”
Then she turns on the light on the nightstand.
Alexa then proceeds by giving weather and then the news. She can as well be programmed to play JD!
What a pleasant way for the elderly to wake up! For seniors who have speech impairments, this is truly amazing. Best part – ‘Routines’ can be scheduled.
What services and smart home devices work with Alexa
The Echo is undoubtedly Amazon’s flagship Alexa device. But it’s no longer alone. It’s joined by other smart home devices, including thermostats (i.e. Ecobee4) and TVs (i.e. Fire TV) which also have voice assistants. Then there’s a growing number (read: 20,000+) of third-party integrations. Alexa can speak to apps like Spotify that seniors can ask her to turn off the lights. Here’s a quick rundown of smart products and services that integrate seamlessly with Alexa.
Amazon Echo smart speaker
The handsfree, equipped with Bluetooth speaker and internet-connected smarts Echo models
It can control smart home devices, play music from the phone, Amazon Prime, and Spotify. Also, it can help the elderly order products off Amazon just by listening to the voice. Seniors with mobility issues or health conditions like Parkinson’s can also benefit from an Echo. It gives them more control over their life and more independence. Having Echo at home gives a much-needed break for caregivers.
Ecobee smart thermostat with smart speaker technology
The Ecobee smart thermostat is a compelling way to make Alexa available throughout the home of elderly parents. With built-in Alexa voice assistant, it’s easy to ask the thermostat to set timers and temperature, turn off smart lights, or even send a message. This is a good choice for the elderly (and caregivers) who want a smart thermostat but don’t want a dedicated voice speaker.
Fire TV Cube
It is a hands-free media player device featuring 4K Ultra HD. In addition to streaming TV, it can dim the lights to set the ambiance of the show with just a voice note. If the remote goes MIA in the couch or elsewhere, it’s possible to navigate by voice command.
Fitbit Trackers are ideal for elderly people who want to monitor their activity and stay fit and healthy. With the Fitbit integration, seniors can ask the voice assistant how the heart rate is, how well they’ve slept, and more. Vital signs like changes in blood volume, pressure and temperature are crucial to monitoring seniors’ health. It helps caregivers in spotting any signs of illness on time.
When it comes to gadgets with a built-in voice assistant, Amazon and Google are competitors. But considering the competitive spirit, Amazon has added Google Calendar. This allows users to check the Google calendar, as well as add important events to it. All it takes is a simple question: “Alexa, what’s on my calendar?” or “Alexa, add Tom’s birthday to my calendar.”
Nest Learning Thermostat
With Nest’ built-in Alexa support, Nest devices can be easily controlled while out or at home. Again, there’s no need to go near the Nest device or find the phone. Ensure the Nest device is powered on and connected to Alexa, and the person is within the hearing range of an Alexa-enabled device. Alexa can change the temperature inside the home with the Nest Thermostat skill. And with the Nest Camera skill, Alexa can show video from Nest camera.