As a company focused on independent living for older adults, and building optimal health and wellness, we keep a close eye on useful technology that can help. A home assistant device using WiFi or Bluetooth is one of them.
This advanced technology leverages simple voice technology, and can help seniors improve their safety, comfort, health and wellness… all factors that influence remaining independent.
Voice-activated devices that connect with a smartphone are less and less expensive, with some unexpectedly attractive benefits.
Because of its best-in-class voice-activated personal assistant software, Alexa—combined with impressive quality in their devices—this article focuses on Amazon’s Echo devices, although there are several manufacturers to consider if you are interested.
Here’s how they work.
Echo devices come in a variety of sizes and features, but even the most basic, inexpensive Echo Dot is a great place to begin for only $49. You can play music, place a speakerphone call hands-free or if your phone is across the room, get information, news or weather by asking, and more. The device connects to your phone via Bluetooth and/or a home computer using WiFi.
With a smart plug inserted into an electrical outlet, it even works with non-WiFi devices, such as a lamp, alarm clock or radio, coffee maker or Christmas tree.
A smart plug is a Wireless outlet that is WiFi-enabled, so it can connect to Alexa or another voice-activated software. Plugging it into any outlet in your home allows a device plugged into the smart plug to be managed by the software.
It’s convenient in many ways, but ideal for older adults for three reasons in particular: setting reminders, night visibility to prevent falls, calling 911 and, on the less serious side since we all need entertainment, reading audiobooks.
1. Set reminders
There’s no denying it: we sit down too much. Spending eighty percent of our day sitting is an unattractive statistic that applies to older adults, and it definitely takes a toll. Too much sitting impacts physical health, balance and muscle strength, sapping us of our ability to be independent as time goes by.
We know we need to move around the house and get outside more often, but the reality doesn’t always align with our intentions.
If you have a voice-activated home assistant, you can simply ask it to remind you to move. Saying something like, “Alexa, remind me to stand up every thirty minutes when my television is turned on” or “Alexa, set a reminder to walk around during commercials at 4:30 every day” can be useful. Reminders ensure you don’t forget.
Alexa can even guide you through light standing exercises for balance during the break.
Setting reminders to drink water is also useful, since dehydration is a major factor leading to hospital stays for older adults. Even medication reminders are effortless. You can set reminders to take medication, even email a current list of medication to a family member or yourself.
2. Visibility at night
Many of us need to visit the bathroom during the night, but visibility can be a problem. Nightlights are an easy fix, but not everyone can sleep with the light they provide.
With a voice-activated assistant, plus a smart light bulb or lamp plugged into an inexpensive smart hub, it’s easy to sit up in bed and say, “Alexa, turn on the light” and “Alexa, turn off the light.”
You’ll never have to walk across the house in the dark again. Fear of falling is a common concern among older adults, especially when getting up in the middle of the night, but smart technology is a simple answer.
You can also have lights turn on and coffee brewed at a certain time. Now THAT’S a great way to start the morning!
3. Emergency Response
Since a voice-activated device is connected to your cell phone, one of our favorite features is the ability to make hands-free phone calls on speaker phone at any time, whether the phone is five feet or five rooms away.
With some devices that provide stronger range or multiple devices that cover your entire home, you can even make the call from your front doorstep or backyard. Your phone might be in the bedroom, but calling your daughter while weeding has never been easier. As long as the device can hear you, it can place a call. You can dial by voice without getting dirt on the phone, or even converse using the device speaker with the phone 100 feet away.
If you should happen to fall or need emergency response for any reason, asking Alexa to call 911 is simple, too. You might not be able to reach your phone, but Alexa will place the call on speakerphone so you can get help.
The voice activated commands only work if you are in range of the device, though, so be sure to test and understand its range and limitations. Connecting several devices might be required to be heard from every corner of your home, and outdoor use may not be possible. It might work if you speak loudly from the backyard when the door or windows are open, for example, but it wouldn’t be able to hear you with them closed unless you have a device sitting on the back patio.
4. Read audiobooks effortlessly
One of the more unexpected benefits of Alexa that many don’t consider is the entertainment factor…. such as an ability to play audiobooks. For those with vision issues making it difficult to read, audible reading can be a wonderful way to keep the mind active and stave off boredom.
There’s no complex technical skill needed once Alexa (or any other voice-activated device) has been set up, but you will need to have the audiobook already downloaded where Alexa can access it. Checking them out from the library’s website using your phone or laptop is popular, and there are many free audiobooks available online.
Also, why not try asking Alexa to find one?
Alexa can also read print books, stream music or (with a smart plug or smart TV) turn on the television.
If this all sounds interesting, you’ll need WiFi in your home, purchase of a WiFi home assistant device and downloading its software to your phone, tablet or computer..Some popular device choices include those made by Amazon, Google and Apple. Each one offers slightly different technology and services, and varying levels of user experience with its voice recognition.
In addition to the device, you’ll also need to install an app on your smartphone, tablet or computer to manage the software (compatible with Fire OS, Android or iOS devices, or through your web browser for those with home WiFi on a Windows-based computer).
Be sure to check technical requirements on any device before purchase to ensure it’s compatible. For those more technologically challenged, getting a friend or family member to help with setup can be helpful.
Once a system is set up, most tasks are easily accomplished by simply talking to the device with clear instructions.
You just might find yourself surprised with how effective technology like this can be in helping you remain independent! Once you try one, dozens of uses for the device might quickly make it indispensable.
“Alexa, play music,” “Alexa, find me a five-star Mexican restaurant,” “Alexa, play Scrabble” and “Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride” are all things you might find yourself doing on a regular basis. Why not?
Just like these WiFi home assistant devices, Sun Health at Home can help you successfully age while remaining in the comfort of your own home. If you’d like to learn more about Sun Health at Home, a continuing care at home program designed to help older adults remain independent, providing long-term care needs if they should arise, reserve your spot now at our free, no-obligation discovery seminar or call (623) 227- HOME (4663).
Sun Health at Home is the first CCaH program in the southwestern United States, and the only one available in Arizona.
(Originally published Jan. 24, 2018; last updated Jan. 11, 2019.)