Voice technology, which has long been the staple of sci-fi stories, has now become part of many people’s daily lives. Although the technology is not yet perfect, it’s improving every year, and is showing its usefulness when it comes to seniors.
For those with mobility issues, being able to order a taxi, get items delivered, or make calls without having to get up can be very helpful. For those with cognitive issues, such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, it can help alleviate some of the pressure on caregivers by answering questions (no matter how many times they are asked), providing entertainment, or connecting them with friends and loved ones.
One of the best-known voice assistants is Alexa, the AI behind Amazon’s Echo smart-hub range. The Echo can make for a great gift for an older loved one, providing convenience and capability via simple voice commands. Amazon make three main types of Echo: the classic, which is tall and has excellent speakers; the Echo Dot which is smaller and cheaper, and is the most popular one; and the Echo Show, which has a screen that can display information like the time and weather, and is needed if you want to make video calls.
What can the Amazon Alexa Echo do?
With a smart device, the amount of choice in what it can do can almost be overwhelming. Here’s a quick roundup of Alexa’s (and many other smart devices’) capabilities.
Information and updates
Alexa is connected to the internet, meaning that there is a wealth of information at your fingertips. Want to know who the 23rd President of the United States was, or what the weather will be like today? Perhaps you want to hear the news headlines? Just ask! This can be especially useful for seniors with cognitive issues, who worry about burdening a carer by repeatedly asking the same questions.
Timers and alarms
The Echo keeps track of time perfectly, meaning that you’ll not only always know what the time is, but also be able to set alarms and timers; great for knowing when something’s finished cooking in a different room! It also allows you to set reminders, which can be helpful if you have daily pills to take or exercises to do.
The Echo, like all similar smart devices, contains speakers, meaning that if you have existing music or podcast accounts, you can connect them to Alexa, and get access to your music library or the latest episodes. It also connects to audiobook accounts like Audible, so you can listen to just one more chapter!
Since Alexa is made by Amazon, this means you need to have a connected Amazon account. This also means that ordering from Amazon is a doddle! Once you’ve enabled voice purchasing, you can simply ask Alexa to buy something for you – don’t worry though, you can set a 4-digit code to stop the grandkids (or parrots) from getting carried away!
If you have multiple Echos in your house, you can use them like an intercom, which can be useful if you live with family. It’s not limited to a single house though – if friends or relatives own an Echo in their own home, then you can call them on theirs from yours, just like making a phone call. Using an Echo Show even means that you can make video calls!
Alexa is also useful for what it can do around the house. You can buy “smart” lightbulbs and plugs, meaning that you can turn the lights or the kettle on with your voice, or change your heating settings with a smart thermostat. You can also get smart security measures, such as doorbells with cameras, or Alexa Guard, which listens for breaking glass, and smoke/carbon monoxide alarms.
Things to consider before buying Amazon Alexa
It is often true that things that are worth doing are not necessarily easy, and the same can be said when it comes to any kind of smart device. There are definitely some things to keep in mind when it comes to buying an Amazon Echo.
Things they’ll need
The most important things you’ll need are an Amazon account to connect to, and a smartphone. An accompanying app is required to set the Echo up and if you want to make calls, as this is where the contacts are stored. The solution (if you don’t have one) is to buy a simple, no contract smartphone that can be kept in the house and just used for this purpose.
Setting up some of the extra functionality after the initial setup can be a little fiddly. For example, a number of the “skills” you can enable may require their own dedicated accounts. If you already have Spotify, Audible and others, then this is fine, but otherwise it can feel like an extra hurdle.
Alexa can sometimes be a little picky when it comes to the voice commands if you’re trying to do something very specific, such as trying to find a specific song, or ordering a specific item. Often the “skills” will require you to reference them by name, which can be a bit hard to remember. A good idea is to print a handout of common or useful phrases that can be referred to should you need it.
Amazon’s Echo may be one of the best-known smart home hubs out there, but it is not the only one.
Their main competitor is Google Home. It’s powered by Google Assistant, which connects seamlessly to existing Google tools, such as Gmail, and has a better information search capability. However, although it can integrate with some smart devices, it doesn’t yet have access to the range of skills that the Echo does.
Another strong contender is Samsung’s SmartThings hub. It still needs WiFi and a smartphone for its app, but it connects to a much wider range of smart devices than the other hubs. It also has settings called “automations”; ingenious controls that you can modify to do a variety of things, such as turning off your thermostat if a window is open (with smart thermostats and window sensors), or playing a sound if your smart doorbell detects movement outside. Alexa and Google Home can do these too, but require an extra enabled skill, rather than it being built-in.
Apple have also made their own Apple HomePod; however, although the audio quality is good, Siri (the AI assistant) is much more limited in its capabilities in comparison to Alexa and Google Assistant.
It can be quite tempting to fit out a home as completely smart, whether it’s for ourselves or to make life easier for an older loved one, but don’t forget to leave manual capabilities. Not having light switches because your bulbs are smart is all well and good until the WiFi goes down and you can’t turn them off again…
Useful Alexa Skills for seniors
Alexa can do a lot right out of the box, but to really get the benefit you should look at the available “Skills” – they’re like extra apps within Alexa, that give you wider capabilities. In order to use them, you need to enable them, either through the Alexa app or by asking your Echo verbally. We’ve picked out a few interesting ones that you might not be aware of.
Sleep Sounds is perfect for those who have trouble sleeping or relaxing. It has over 40 different sounds to choose from, such as distant thunderstorm, waterfall, and forest night, and can play on a loop for as long as you choose.
Phone Finder is a handy skill that, once enabled, can be used to override your Android phone’s silent settings to ring it at full volume. Useful if you often forget where you’ve put your phone down!
Uber is a useful skill for those who have mobility problems; you set your default address in the app, then simply ask Alexa to order an Uber for you. There are still some difficulties with it however – it doesn’t yet allow you to set a destination, which can cause some issues with Uber drivers.
Ask My Buddy is a great skill for seniors who live alone, as it gives them the ability to alert friends and/or family in the case of an emergency. It also gives the option to send “check-in” alerts, so you can quickly and easily let people know that you are okay.
My Life Story is a skill designed for those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia. A loved one or carer sets up “memories” within it of the person’s life, which can then be played back at any time, allowing the senior to relive some of their happier moments that they may otherwise find it hard to remember.
Are you looking for a professional carer to look after your loved one? At SuperCarers, we can help you connect with experienced care professionals in your local are and support you in finding someone that is right for you. Simply call us on 020 8629 1030.
You may also be interested in our article about technology for elderly care.