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Here’s what assistive technology like Alexa can do for seniors

Having a voice helps

A person chops tomatoes in a kitchen and listens to a smart speaker. Credit: Getty Images / monkeybusinessimages

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Innovation experts indicate that seniors are among those likely to gain the most by using assistive technology like Amazon’s voice-activated Alexa, although they aren’t the only ones to benefit.

From setting medication reminders to keeping in touch with friends or even just turning on the TV without fumbling with the remote, Alexa’s myriad safety and lifestyle features suit even the most tech-wary senior.

Overcome “tech fear” and ease social isolation

Two people speak through a smart tablet on Alexa
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Amplify your audio by pairing a tablet with a smart device.

Andre Bierzynski, a director with AARP Innovation Labs, says, “For seniors, the power of voice technology is transformative. In the past, I had to use my hands to do things, which can be challenging as we get older. With Alexa, there’s a low barrier to entry, because all you have to do is be yourself—there’s no coding, no log-in. And pretty much anyone’s got an inexpensive speaker in their house,” so it’s a concept they’re used to.

Bierzynski points to his elderly dad as an example of someone who’s embraced hands-free technology with open arms. “He loves all of his ‘smart speakers.’ ‘Alexa, let’s play “Jeopardy,”’ ‘Hey Alexa, tell me a joke,’ that sort of thing.”

Matt Smith, CEO of Speak2 Software, says that Alexa Skills can help keep the brain sharp. The company connects what he calls the “screen generation” to Grandma’s through all generations of Amazon Echo devices.

Alexa can help stave off feelings of loneliness, Smith adds. “The pandemic woke people up to the health impact of isolation.” The CDC has found that isolation and loneliness are risk factors for elderly health problems like dementia.

For Laurie M. Orlov, a technology writer and elder care advocate, one of her favorite Amazon Echo features is the video chat function to call family and friends.

Put safety first

A person activates a voice assistant on a smart speaker.
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There's a low barrier of entry to learning Alexa.

An Echo device is invaluable for the safety features alone, say the experts. Orlov points to new 24/7 emergency response functionality through Alexa Together. Alexa Together enables the aging customer to say, “Alexa, call for help,” and reach Urgent Response, a professional emergency helpline. Or, by downloading the free My SOS Family Emergency Alert app, Alexa can be used as a medical alert device.

Falls are among the top hazards of living alone, says Smith, who recommends enhancing lighting to prevent tumbles. Inexpensive smart light bulbs can be used with any Alexa device to turn lights on and off easily, which is especially handy during nighttime trips to the bathroom.

Boost wellness in loved ones’ lives

A person sits at a desk using a laptop and smart speaker.
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Utilize medication reminders, track symptoms, and keep health in check with a smart device.

Alexa offers a lot more than simple medication reminders, say Smith and Orlov.

Orlov recommends that seniors use their voices to keep an ongoing list of symptoms as a “tracker” that can be discussed the next time they speak with a doctor or caregiver.

For Smith, it’s important to note that medications can have side effects—but these can be addressed. “Medications can lead to dehydration, which is a huge issue in the senior community,” he says. (Older adults also have lower fluid content in the body and a decreased thirst response, according to the Cleveland Clinic.) “Setting these reminders to drink a glass of water, take a walk, do yoga in your living room: These can feel like affirmations with Alexa, instead of a burden. They’re encouraging.”

Make coming and going less of a hassle

A person speaks to a smart speaker.
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Help stave off feelings of loneliness with a voice assistant.

Fumbling with keys to get in and out of the door is no fun for those with weaker grips, Orlov says, which is why she’s a fan of Alexa-controlled door locks.

And, the added ease of turning lights on and off with Alexa when leaving or entering the house is not only safe, because it promotes visibility, but it’s also an added security measure, Bierzynski says.

Seniors who are aging in place can also enhance their peace of mind with a newly added Alexa setting for some Echo Show smart displays, Bierzynski says. The functionality makes them behave more like traditional security cameras. (While there’s no recording function, users can pan left and right so those on their front door appear on screen.)

Enhance the home entertainment experience

A person relaxes while lying on a sofa and asks a digital assistant a question.
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You won't have to drop the needle or handle a remote control with a voice-activated speaker.

Lastly, seniors should have some fun with Alexa. Bierzynski recommends using a smart TV to use voice control with Netflix. This eliminates toggling with tiny remote buttons, and makes it easy to rewind shows and movies or turn closed captioning on for the hearing-impaired.

Music, especially, is easy to play, says Orlov, and is also a mood booster for those who live alone.

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