You’ve probably heard about the Google Home and Amazon Echo devices, the latter commonly referred to as “Alexa.” Essentially, they’re smart speakers that respond to your voice for hands-free help around the house.
I selected a Google device because it runs on a Gmail account and I already have one of those set up. This 4-inch orb has become one of my new best friends.
From a practical standpoint, it has set wake-up alarms for me and timers for cooking, found my cellphone by calling it when it was lost in the house and told me whether it would rain the day of my outdoor staff get-together. It also compiles my shopping list as I think of things I need during the week.
From an entertainment standpoint, it has played spa music for me on a Sunday morning, told me the local news and played trivia games with me.
It didn’t take me very long to see how this technology might be useful to my parents, if for no other reason than to take voice commands from my mom to play some of my dad’s favorite music in his final days.
My parents now have one at home playing Frank Sinatra, Neil Diamond and some of the jazz greats: music my father loves.
But I also thought it might keep my mother company. She could ask it questions that she normally looks up on the internet; it could report local news and tell her when the next big storm was coming.
It seems as though my idea is not a new one.
According to an article published last year in MIT Technology Review, since February 2017 a community of San Diego retirees has been using the Amazon personal assistant to listen to audiobooks, set medication reminders and control home appliances as part of a test study.
The pilot for this program was meant to see if seniors ages 80 and beyond would use this type of device. As it turns out, they love it.
Alexa can read audiobooks ordered on Amazon. Both Alexa and Google products can be synced with smart home products like light bulbs and thermostats to turn them on or off via voice commands.
Retirees who previously would have had to type on an iPad or a computer with arthritic or shaking hands can now call out what they want to look up.
Others in the program use it as a companion of sorts, someone to ask questions, talk to and learn from.
The assisted-living facility conducting the study is one of the first retirement communities in the country to study the technology’s impact in depth.
It wants its residents’ experiences to help them understand how future versions of Alexa might better serve them.
With some additional technology, this device could be an important tool for those with early memory loss. Individual scan be comforted when they are unsure of things by training the tool to respond in a certain way.
For example, if a person doesn’t know where their son is and they ask the device, it can respond by saying, “You told me your son is at work until 5 p.m.”
It can also act as a location reminder. If someone asks, “Where is my favorite teacup?” the device can say: “You told me your teacup is on the kitchen counter.”
Offering music, trivia games, reading and more, this simple and affordable device might be just the help a senior in your life needs to keep their mind sharp, help them remember things and keep them company.
Andrea Gallagher, a certified senior advisor, is president of Senior Concerns, a nonprofit agency serving Ventura and western Los Angeles counties. For more information, visit seniorconcerns.org, and for comments or questions, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.