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Personal Assistants: Technology Help for Seniors

When you think about assistive devices for seniors, you probably think about wheelchairs, canes, hearing aids, or any number of the common devices that over two-thirds of older adults use to lead better lives. What you probably don’t think about is Grandpa using the latest generation of computing technology, but with the Amazon Echo, Google Home and other devices, that may change.

What’s an Echo?

The Echo is the latest in a new generation of listening speakers and intelligent personal assistants. Not totally unlike Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana, the Amazon Echo can provide technology help for seniors by letting you give questions or commands to “Alexa,” the device’s voice service. And while this might seem like just another fancy toy at first glance, Alexa is so much more.

It only takes a few minutes of setting up before you can ask Alexa to do dozens of different tasks for you. For example, if you say “Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes”, the Echo will confirm it heard you and set a timer. You can ask her to call you a cab, give you up-to-date information about the news, or to answer just about any question that has an answer online.  

Helping you Live Independently

As for what the Echo and other home assistive devices can do for seniors, the sky’s the limit. For those who suffer with dementia, Alexa can be a reassuring source of knowledge that never feels annoyed or frustrated, no matter how often a question is repeated. To help with memory issues, Alexa is a great way to set verbal reminders, like a timer to take medications at particular times of the day. It can even play a specific song a user requests. Given that music has been proven to be helpful as part of therapy for Alzheimer’s sufferers, this is just one more small way this gadget can be helpful to seniors trying to stay independent.

The Echo can even replace TV remotes and light switches with verbal commands, which can be ideal for people who suffer from hand tremors or mobility issues. Where someone with impaired vision or mobility issues can take several minutes to do simple tasks like turning on the TV and navigating to the right channel, Alexa can help solve problems like these in seconds.

The Echo’s design is elegant to boot. Because it is voice operated, it’s very easy to use. And the Echo carries none of the modern stigma of other assistive living devices. It looks modern and sleek, it’s ready to start working the moment you plug it in, and it’s small enough to carry anywhere there’s an electrical outlet and Wi-Fi.

Equal Parts Useful and Fun

Alexa is even a great source of entertainment. The Echo is happy to read an eBook to you, talk about the news, or just tell you a joke. Want to listen to some music? Alexa will be glad to stream any song you ask for, or even to tune into a local radio station. Just say “Alexa, tune into NPR”, and you’re on your way.

And while Alexa isn’t a replacement for authentic human interaction, there’s almost no doubt that it can help with loneliness. Given the intimate relationship between loneliness and physical disease, that means a sense of companionship between you and your robot butler may prove to have actual health benefits beyond the conveniences it can provide.

Many people might think of Alexa as nothing more than a stylish toy, but in the right hands, it’s so much more. Because you don’t need to be a technical wizard to use the Echo, it’s amazing what you can do with almost no learning curve. Although the Echo is still quite new, it may only be a few years until devices like these are just as integral to independent living as the wheelchair or hearing aid.