Alexa for seniors: Echo DotThe race is on to supplement senior care, managed care and other healthcare environments with Amazon’s Alexa and similar virtual assistant technologies, including Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri.

On the surface, a virtual assistant like Alexa for seniors seems like a great alternative to the traditional input devices—keyboards and touch screens.

However, while many seniors embrace technology, some seniors are resistant to using new technology. Of those seniors who embrace new technology, not all are able use devices at a high functional level.

Overcoming current challenges

Until voice recognition and comprehension is more evolved, there will continue to be verbal interaction challenges for virtual assistant users of any age.

Therefore, Alexa for seniors is subject to two issues.

1. Imperfect voice recognition and comprehension that exists for any age user

2. Auditory and cognitive challenges that can accompany old age

 

Those of us who are not seniors can be prone to imposing our levels of cognitive function and technological competence on an older generation.

Of course, it’s always possible—and in many cases it’s recommended—for a senior’s family member to manage various accounts that link to Alexa devices. This way, the senior doesn’t need to be responsible for the more technical, back-end tasks.

While adoption of virtual assistants by seniors is still in the early stages, the technology is progressing rapidly.

For example, virtual assistant vendors have added devices with a display component. Echo Show is Amazon’s entry into this category.

Echo Show

A Smart Display, powered by Google Assistant, is now available from Lenovo. Similar devices will soon be available from JBL and LG.

Third Party Marketplaces

Alexa has a marketplace of third party skills that can be installed on Echo devices.

Google Assistant has a marketplace of third party actions that can be installed on Google Assistant platforms including Google Home, android devices, iOS devices and more.

A number of skills and actions come into play for seniors.

Alexa for Seniors Applications

Beyond easily downloadable third party apps, there are vendors that have created entire suites of functionality digital assistant technology.

Given the base technologies plus the ever expanding third party marketplaces, what are some of the current practical applications and add-ons for Alexa and other virtual assistants for seniors?

Virtual companionship

Loneliness is an issue for many seniors who are living by themselves.

While not a replacement for interpersonal communication, a voice assistant like Alexa is something that a senior can interact with—even asking basic questions such as, “what day is it?” or “what time is it?”

Seniors can, of course, request that their favorite music be played via Alexa.

Caregiver interaction

Lifepod is an entire company built around a “voice-first caregiving service.”

Lifepod has developed an Alexa-based hardware device that goes well beyond the functionality of a standard Echo. LifePod can be set up and controlled by a remote caregiver via an online portal. The device(s) deliver personalized check-ins, reminders, and virtual companionship.

The controlling software for Lifepod is routine-oriented. Routines can be set up for wake up, morning, afternoon, evening, bedtime and random. Lifepod reports back to caregivers, family members and even doctors.

Verbal reminders

For those in a senior living facility, Alexa can be used to set reminders to attend meals, events and other group gatherings. These types of reminders also serve to improve social engagement.

Single event reminders such as a doctor’s appointment can be created in an application such as Any.do. The reminders can then be linked to Alexa. A family member could manage an Any.do account on behalf of a senior.

Customized entertainment

Alexa Skill: A Game Seniors LoveWhile the screen sizes on Echo Show and Smart Displays don’t make them a replacement for a television, they can variously be used to show video content from Amazon Prime video, YouTube, CNN, The Today Show and more.

Jeopardy on Alexa and Not Jeopardy on Google Assistant are examples of a popular game show format that can be emulated on a virtual assistant.

Outbound voice calls

With some up-front setup, outbound calls to mobile phones and landlines can be placed using a virtual assistant.

When a senior calls a family member or caregiver, it’s important that the senior’s telephone number displays on the recipient’s phone.

Voice calls can be made from an Amazon Echo. For contacts that are saved in Amazon, a senior can simply speak, “call (Mary’s) mobile.”

A product called Echo Connect allows for making voice calls from an Echo over an existing landline or VoIP line.

With a link to a Google account and therefore the account’s contacts, Google Home can be used to make outbound calls. A mobile phone number or a Google Voice number can be set as the Caller ID.

Outbound video calls

Both Echo Show and Smart Displays allow for outbound video calls. Both rely on the technology vendor’s proprietary functionality.

Echo Show video call

Currently, an Echo Show can only make video calls to other Echo Shows or to those who have the Alexa app installed on their smartphone.

Smart Displays can only make video calls to others who are using Google Duo on a Smart Display, mobile phone or tablet.

Inbound video calls

Family members with matching technology can make video calls to a senior family member.

Echo Show has the ability to allow select contacts to “drop in” unannounced. Some, however, may find this intrusive.

Outbound notifications to a list of contacts

Alexa Skill: My SOS FamilyFor life alerts and other distress signals, virtual assistants are not quite ready to replace mature technologies such as emergency pull cords and call buttons.

As a potential harbinger of what’s to come on this front, a company called My SOS Family has created both an Alexa skill and a Google Assistant action that can send out help notifications to a list of contacts.

Alerts can be via SMS, by phone call or by email.

Furthering use of Alexa among seniors

While there are many possibilities for Alexa and other virtual assistants for seniors, the game is still in the early innings.

For a family member who is providing care to a senior, the viability of a virtual assistant could be proven out with a lower cost device such as the Echo Dot or the Google Home Mini.

The caregiver will often need to provide guidance on how to use virtual assistant technology. The caregiver can also support back-end components such as contact lists, appointments and connections for voice and video calling.


About the Author

John RousevilleJohn Rounseville is Co-Founder and VP of Business Development at Saxa Solutions in Boston, MA. Saxa specializes in consulting services for Salesforce HLS customers.

John Rounseveille LinkedIn

 

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