Why smart speakers (digital assistants) are a great choice for older adults, and how to choose which one is right for you.
Have you been wondering if the time is right to get an Amazon Echo, Google Home or other similar product for yourself or loved ones? The answer is a resounding “Yes!”
These handy devices can do everything from telling you the time to answering how much an elephant weighs. For anyone with mobility issues, it’s the personal help they need … to add an event to the calendar, be reminded who has a birthday coming up, or listen to music, audiobooks or the news, all just by asking.
Older adults with health issues like Parkinson’s can have more independence by using a smart speaker. Alexa can add toilet paper to the shopping list or play a favorite Frank Sinatra song. While using a touchscreen may be impossible or too complicated for someone with reduced cognition to learn, voice control is relatively easy.
People with low vision benefit from using digital assistants. See how in this YouTube video: Blind Joy demonstrates how she uses Amazon Echo.
Digital Assistants for Dementia Patients
People with dementia often repeat questions endlessly, get anxious when someone leaves their side or need to be constantly entertained. But ask Amazon’s Alexa what day it is, and she’ll respond over and over and over, each time as patiently as the last. She can also check what’s on TV, give updated traffic and weather reports, or amuse someone with endless jokes and riddles.
Early Onset Alzheimer’s struck Rick Phelps in November 2010. He subsequently founded a private Facebook community, Memory People, to promote dementia awareness. In early 2016, Phelps bought an Amazon Echo. A week later, he was so enthusiastic about the experience that he wrote a blog post urging others in the dementia community to buy one.
“It has afforded me something that I had lost. Memory,” says Phelps. “I can ask Alexa anything and I get the answer instantly. And I can ask what day it is twenty times a day and I will still get the same correct answer.”
Phelps goes on to marvel that after telling Alexa once to remind him to take medicine at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., she reminds him without fail at those times every day. Another service he finds invaluable is Alexa reading audiobooks. “That alone makes this thing worth its weight in gold to me,” he says.
All of us can benefit from telling the speaker where we are stashing our passport or an important document! Forget where you put it later on, and instead of searching frantically all you have to do is ask Alexa to remind you where it is.
How Do Smart Speakers Work?
Voice-activated assistants like Amazon Echo or Google Home work wirelessly with a Wi-Fi connection, just like a laptop or tablet. Each device is about the size of a can of soda. Users need an account with Amazon or Google and a smartphone or tablet to get started. Just download the app (Google Home or Alexa) and follow the instructions to connect to Wi-Fi.
To use your new assistant, wake it up by saying “Alexa” for the Amazon Echo or “OK Google” for the Google Home. Then, you can ask questions or give it a command. A female voice responds to your instructions.
Are the grandkids over after school? Your smart speakers can offer a chocolate cake recipe with instructions for each step, help answer questions for a homework assignment or translate into another language.
The voice assistants can distinguish between different voices, so your calendars and medication prods won’t get mixed up. Playlists of music stay separate, too. You can find a song even if you don’t know the name … just tell your smart speaker some of the lyrics and it will find the song for you.
If your house has smart home features, you can use your smart speaker to turn on the oven at a certain time or run the sprinklers.
Which One Should I Buy?
While we’ve only mentioned the two most popular above, there are a variety of speakers (which also contain a sensitive microphone) at different price points. Here are some of the most common, with pros and cons:
- Amazon Echo ($99) was awarded “best voice assistant” on com for its proficient artificial intelligence on a wide array of questions and task performance. In follow-up mode, Alexa can take multiple commands without being reactivated or woken up. Alexa lets you stream music, reserve an Uber or move through a guided yoga session. Amazon allows developers to create additional services (much like new apps for your phone), and Alexa has more than 30,000 “skills” to suit your needs. She also has the best compatibility with smart-home systems, and is a breeze to buy online. Her close relationship with Amazon means you can ask her about exclusive deals, too! To learn more about the Echo, including a review and demonstration, watch this video.
- Google Home Max ($129) earned runner-up status for superior ability to answer questions, performing best on a test of 4,000 questions. Google Assistant can also follow two commands at the same time. Google bows to Alexa on voice apps and smart-device capability, but it’s catching up. For instance, it will string together several actions with one command. You can say, “OK Google, good morning,” and it will turn on your lights, tell you the weather and stream music. As part of the Google family, it will work with Chromecast and play YouTube videos.
- Apple HomePod ($349.99) will please the many dedicated Apple fans who love Siri, which works seamlessly with HomeKit, Apple’s home automation service. Activating an automation feature is as simple as giving a normal command, and the feature joins the HomePod automatically during setup. Apple users will appreciate how the ecosystem excels at leveraging strength among all products; they work better together. The speakers on HomePod are the best in the bunch, and Siri shines over the competition in her ability to understand more than 20 languages, compared to Google and Alexa’s measly eight. The HomePod currently only supports English, but Siri’s capabilities on the iPhone may convince buyers to opt for the Apple experience.
Scroll to the bottom of this page for information about how to choose a voice assistant, and for information about other assistants, such as Cortana and Bixby.
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors