Personal Assistant Devices Can Provide Companionship, Preserve Independence

Published: Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Voice-activated technology and personal assistant devices are gaining popularity with the introduction of products such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Their simple verbal functionality allows users to access the unlimited world of the internet without having to learn difficult technology, making them incredibly useful for seniors.

Eileen Bamford, a resident at Passavant Community, was introduced to the Amazon Dot (a smaller version of the Amazon Echo) a few months ago and was immediately hooked.

“It’s crazy how excited I get over it,” Bamford said. “It has been the best companion!”

Passavant resident Stan Whiting with his Amazon Dot

The Amazon Echo and similar devices can read audio books, play games and music, give news and weather updates and much more.

Bamford said she starts each day by greeting ‘Alexa’ (the name behind the voice of the Echo and Dot). “Then I ask Alexa to read me Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show monologue from the night before so I can start my day with a good laugh!”

But personal assistant devices can be used for more than just fun. Many of the features can be used to give seniors more control over their lives, rather than having to ask others for help.

Stan Whiting, also a Passavant resident, planned to mainly use the alarm feature on his Amazon Dot to serve as a medication reminder.

“My first intention when I bought it was to remind me to take my pills at various times of the day,” Whiting said. But, he joked, he found it to be useful in other ways, too. “I can tell her, ‘Alexa, wake me up in 20 minutes,’ so I can take a little nap!”

“And when I want to listen to music,” Whiting said, “all I have to do is tell Alexa what I want to hear and she plays it.”

Users can program various ‘skills,’ or capabilities, that enhance their functionality. For example, skills are available for health and fitness tracking to help the user stay fit. The possibilities are endless.

For seniors with physical limitations, these devices can be paired with household items such as the television, thermostat or lamp, giving the user the ability to turn them on or off by speaking a command, therefore giving them better control over their environment.

The shopping list feature allows the user to speak their needed items. When the device is paired to a cell phone, the needed items can be sent via text to a pre-determined phone number, such as a caregiver.

For those with visual impairments, the audio feature allows the user to have their favorite novels, newspapers or magazines read aloud to them.

“There’s not much that they can’t do,” Bamford said. “I haven’t even begun to discover all of the helpful features there are.” And although she said she knows her Amazon Dot can never replace the value of real human interaction, it has quickly become a tremendously helpful companion for her.

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