Alexa is Amazon’s virtual assistant AI. It can be available via Amazon Echo, Dot, or Echo Plus. Alexa runs on the platform called Amazon Voice Services and is a voice that answers any question you may have from “What is the weather today?” to “What is the latest news?” etc.
So how does Alexa work? When you ask a question to Alexa, it uses a cloud-based service designed by Amazon to retrieve an answer for your question. It is designed to mimic real life conversations. Additionally, as Amazon’s Developer site claims, Alexa is always learning through machine learning.
Machine learning is a concept that is very complex to understand and only computer scientists can interpret, but simply, it is when a computer uses a specific task previously learned by the commander to learn something new without any explicit instructions.
In this article, I will discuss the ways to use Alexa for the elderly, the benefits and disadvantages, some common commands used on Alexa and what skills Alexa can provide you.
As the baby boomers are slowly heading towards their senior life, Amazon Alexa will be very popular and high in demand in the near future.
What can Alexa Do?
To start, when you want to wake up your amazon device simply say “Alexa”. Once that command turns on Alexa, you can do many things for your entertainment and convenience.
Just to name a few features: it has the ability to play music, deliver news, update you on sport scores, control your smart home and even allow you to purchase things on Amazon.
How can Alexa help the seniors?
Alexa is a very resourceful tool for many senior citizens. Alexa can be like a personal assistant and also a companion for the elderly. For those seniors who prefer to live their life independently, Alexa can help maintain that independence.
Being a hands-free device, Alexa is a very interactive technology as it can mimic a real-life conversation while still multitasking with other tasks you give it. With all the automated features, Alexa can reduce simple house tasks whether it is switching on/off the lights, checking the stove, opening the blinds or turning on house security if feeling unsafe.
Additionally, one popular and commonly used feature is Alexa’s “calling” feature which helps seniors to keep in touch with their caregivers and loved ones without having to remember or dial a number.
Alexa can be very convenient for the elderly. But it is also important to note that for some, it might be difficult. Some disadvantages arise with Alexa for seniors. Firstly, they would need to first familiarize themselves with the commands and how to use it, which might be difficult for some.
Additionally, if a senior has a cognitive and/or memory problem, then it might be challenging to operate Alexa as well.
Will Alexa be useful as a life alert?
Amazon Echo or Alexa might not be the best for life alert. On Reddit, this is one of the biggest topics of discussion for this product. Amazon Echo lacks a fall sensor so if a senior or individual falls and gets knocked unconscious, Echo can’t be trusted as it is solely dependent on voice commands.
One writer asked if Amazon Echo could provide life alert for her 85-year-old mom, and the most popular answers were that it’s best to buy a life alert or similar product that can be trusted as opposed to the Echo. The lack of a fall sensor in an Amazon Echo is pretty huge.
There are just too many cases like unconsciousness stroke and anything else that would cause the senior to not speak clearly or loudly enough for an echo to pick up. Not to mention the technical problems that could cause it not to work.
How can Alexa help visually impaired
Alexa is very accessible for individuals that are visually impaired. Simply, Alexa can be used for several tasks such as texting, phone calls, schedule planning, checking news and even making emergency phone calls.
One of the main reasons why Alexa is becoming so popular for anyone with disabilities is because it is a hands-free, voice-activated device.
Here is a list of ways Amazon’s Alexa can help those who are visually impaired:
Listen to Music
It only takes a specific voice commands to start the music. This is perfect for those who are visually impaired as it is hands-free and doesn’t require a play button to be pressed on a screen.
Music can simply be played via the voice command “Alexa, play my music”. Specific bands, singers, genres and radio stations can also be chosen.
Alexa can provide you with information such as but not limited to: time of day, news, weather, phone number to a restaurant, directions to a location, and many more. This is extremely useful for those who are visually impaired.
One issue that has come up often with Amazon’s Alexa users is the fact that this cloud uses Bing as their search engine and not Google. However, many users (users that own both Alexa and Google home for example) have counter-attacked this issue by saying that when the same question was asked to both devices, the answer was satisfactory 99% of the time.
Making Phone calls
For someone with visual impairment, making phone calls via Alexa is very easy. You simply need to state the command “call…” and Alexa will make the phone call.
Grocery shopping can be challenging for those with disabilities and especially for the blind. There are programs such as PeaPod, Amazon Fresh or Whole Foods that can be very helpful for those that require assistance to do groceries.
This service will get popular over the years as the baby boomers get older and people become more comfortable with the technology. Just like online shopping for other things, grocery shopping “online” will be highly preferred.
Alarms and Timers for Tasks
Similar to a cellular device, Alexa devices also have built in features for alarms and timers. Commands such as “Alexa, set an alarm for 8am” or “Alexa set timer for 30 mins” can be used to activate Alexa.
Calendars, Reminders and Lists
Keeping track of all your schedules and plans can be challenging for all. This feature is convenient for all and especially for the visually impaired. By creating reminders, it makes all our lives much easier and more productive.
For the elderly, for example, Alexa can give you reminders such as: medication reminders, when to take out the lasagna from the over, when to take out the garbage, when is your next doctors appointment, when should you get ready for that dinner party.
Texting and Reading Text/Email Messages
Along with making phone and video calls, Alexa can also send and receive texts. This skill is especially useful for those who are visually impaired. There are a few requirements that need to be met in order to use Alexa for texting but once it’s met, it is very convenient. In addition, just like reading a book, Alexa has the skills to read your emails and even respond to them.
Use Alexa to Control Your Smart Home
Connecting a device to Alexa involves finding its ‘skill’ in the Alexa Skills & Games menu and following a series of steps that you might find tedious. In addition, this set-up might be challenging for non-tech-savvy individuals or seniors.
Below I will go through a very quick step-by-step procedure on how to set up your devices to Alexa. If your smart home device’s manual displays a “Works With Alexa” badge, follow the steps below to connect it to Amazon’s assistant or follow the steps here.
- Step 1: Open the Amazon Alexa app on your smartphone or tablet.
- Step 2: Tap on the bottom-right button, labeled Devices, to pull up the Devices menu.
- Step 3: Tap the “+” button at the top right, then tap “Add Device” from the list of options.
- Step 4: From the Setup menu, select the type of device, followed by the brand, then follow the step-by-step instructions.
- If your brand of device is not listed in Step 4, it may still work with Alexa. To try it, go back to Step 2 and follow these alternate steps.
- Step 3a: Tap the menu button at the top left, then tap “Skills & Games.” This will bring you to the Alexa Skills Store.
- Step 4a: Use the top-right search button to search for your brand of smart home device. If a branded skill appears in the results, click on it to open its listing. To install the skill, click “Enable to Use” and follow the setup instructions.
Can Alexa call 911? Sadly, no!
The default setting of Amazon Echo does not call 911. Due to company policies, you are unable to use Alexa to call 911, directly. But I will explain some workarounds that will allow you to call 911.
A separate accessory called Amazon Echo Connect will need to be installed using your existing landline or VoIP home phone service. If you use Echo connect in addition to your echo device, you’ll be able to say “Alexa, call 911” and Alexa will call your local emergency services.
However, if you feel uncomfortable connecting other devices to your Amazon Echo, or do not have a home telephone service, I will mention a few routes you could take to ensure you still have accessibilities to phone call service. I would like to mention also, the skills mentioned below are not 911 emergency services:
Ask My Buddy Not 911 emergency service! However, if you add this skill and set up your contacts, you can tell Alexa, “Ask My Buddy to send help” and the people you choose will be alerted by text/SMS, email and even voice phone calls.
The Guardian Circle Skill Not 911 emergency service! But…this skill lets you add as many contacts as you want for free. You can use it to say “Alexa! Tell Guardian Circle I have an emergency!” and all of your “Guardians” will receive a notification on their mobile devices.
My SOS Family Skill Not 911 emergency service! But…Once you set up an account with My SOS Family, you can add unlimited contacts to get in touch with in case of emergency. The people in your network does not require the app to access this skill. Your contacts will receive text/SMS, email and voice phone calls. Note: This is not a free service.
SafeTrek Skill Not 911 emergency service! But…it might be a good option if you don’t have contacts close enough to help you physically in an emergency. With this skill enabled, if you say “Alexa, tell SafeTrek to send help,” a Five Diamond Certified SafeTrek agent will send help to your home.
Overall, Is Alexa good for the elderly?
In conclusion, despite some disadvantages with Alexa for seniors, the advantages provided by this hand-free device out ways the negatives, significantly. Alexa is tremendously resourceful for seniors with or without disabilities.
There are several success stories online regarding how it helped their mothers or fathers or grandparents. It’s a fairly user-friendly, hands-free device that can improve the quality of your life while still maintaining independence at an old age.
As mentioned in the article, Amazon Alexa has several skills whether used for entertainment, doing house chores or just simply calling a loved one.