Technological innovations are coming at a rapid pace in recent years. Their impact on our lives has been immense, but their potential for seniors is even greater. In particular, “smart” devices like the Amazon Echo or Google Home have proven to be extremely valuable for seniors (it’s important to note that seniors must have WiFi in their home in order to use these devices). With prices starting at around $40, the companionship and peace of mind these devices offer are often worth the small investment.
The interface for using these devices is simple — in most cases, seniors (or any of us) simply use our voices to tell Google or Alexa what to do. Initially, setup typically requires a phone or more tech-savvy family member or friend to help. But once these devices are set up, they are incredibly intuitive for seniors to use.
CAUTION: One common error with using them is forgetting to say the prompt, known as a “wake word” (like “Alexa” or “Hey Google”). The user must speak that word before posing a question or giving a command.
“Alexa itself is very simple, but it can also be tremendously expansive in terms of what it can do,” explains Davis Park, executive director of Front Porch Center for Innovation & Wellbeing. Based in Glendale, California, the organization explores innovative uses of technology to empower individuals to live well in their later years. Park says he was thrilled when he first heard about Alexa in particular.
In December 2017, the Center published a report based on six months of testing Alexa in a group of people with an average age of 87. Following the testing, 71 percent of participants said the device helped them feel more connected to family, friends and their community; 100 percent said Alexa made their life easier.
“For a lot of people, this may sound trite, but [Alexa] really opened up an entire world for them,” says Park. “When people can turn to a device and simply use their voice [to make commands], it is immensely empowering.”
How smart devices can empower your senior loved ones.
Smart devices can play music on demand, tell you the weather and serve as an alarm clock and timer. But they can also help seniors in myriad of ways. These eight (8) are just the tip of the iceberg:
1. Fight isolation. Your senior loved ones can ask their devices to call a friend or relative, and even compose or read texts and emails. Certain devices can also conduct video calls, providing even more contact for your loved ones.
2. Remind them to take medications. It’s easy to set daily reminders for taking medication and other tasks, like turning off the stove, drinking water, exercising, taking a shower and more. Devices can even be programmed to send responses to caregivers and keep them informed about seniors and their daily tasks.
3. Eat better. Smart devices can search for recipes and then read them aloud. They can also compile shopping lists and share them with a family member or caregiver; or even order food delivery.
4. Get answers to questions. Memory slips become increasingly frustrating with age. If your loved ones can’t remember information like the author of a book, the vice president’s name or even what day it is, they can ask their devices these and more questions. They can also answer simple medical questions like, “How do I treat a cut?” (Unfortunately, it can’t tell you why you walked into the room or in most cases, where you left your keys!)
5. Call a loved one for help. If the person falls and can’t get up, they ask the device to call a caregiver or relative. It’s important to note that most smart devices are NOT able to call 911. Some devices may have this functionality; however, it’s important to be sure before installing or instructing your loved ones how to use the device.
6. Combat boredom. Living alone in later years can feel incredibly isolating, especially for people with physical limitations. In addition to playing music, these devices can read aloud from audiobooks and tune to radio stations around the country. Google and Alexa can tell jokes as well, and can play a number of trivia and other fun games for all ages.
7. Control home functions. Thanks to other smart devices for the home, Google and Alexa can grant newfound independence to elderly adults with disabilities including blindness or immobility. These devices can perform important tasks like adjusting the thermostat and turning on the lights with simple commands. Smart thermostats and light bulbs are becoming increasingly affordable and are simple to set up. For those who can see and get around just fine, it’s still nice to be able to change the thermostat or turn on or off the lights from bed or from a chair. For those with smart TVs, Google and Alexa can even turn up the volume, change the channel or turn on and off the TV!
8. Maintain a calendar. Smart devices can schedule doctor and haircut appointments and provide reminders for social events like a weekly card game or a visit from grandchildren.