As new voice recognition technologies emerge and the prices come down, this technology is receiving increased attention from the aging services industry. Voice-controlled technology holds great promise, in particular for older adults with physical limitations. In 2017, the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing launched an Amazon Alexa Pilot Study at the Carlsbad by the Sea senior living community to examine the effectiveness and ease of use of Alexa, as well as its potential for offering older adults greater independence and social connection. In order to support participants, Front Porch also held twice monthly “Alexa 101” workshops.
Overall, all the older adults in the pilot study felt that Alexa made their life easier, and over 70% used it at least once a day. Over 70% of participants also reported feeling more connected to family, friends, and the community, with some choosing to use Alex to call friends and family.
In terms of Alexa’s basic functions, participants reported using it for weather and temperature, alarms and timers, music, news, and to search for information. Participants were also given the option of trying smart home devices like smart plugs or thermostats to use with their Alexa, and all but one of these participants felt that these enhanced their enjoyment of Alexa.
One participant summarized her experience in this comment: “I check info and spelling. I message friends. I control apartment temperature and a night light without leaving my easy chair. I even play games and listen to ‘my’ music easily. This could have been invented for a 93-year-old lady.”
Other senior living communities are also evaluating the use of voice technology. In May 2018, Civitas Senior Living announced it was piloting the use of Alexa in each resident’s apartment within their independent living community in suburban Houston.
Front Porch Center for Innovation and Wellbeing. Amazon “Alexa” Pilot Analysis Report. http://fpciw.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/15/2017/12/FINAL-DRAFT-Amazon-Alexa-Analysis-Report.pdf. Accessed June 21, 2018.
Bowers, LA. Virtual assistant, virtual reality get real tests at Civitas Senior Living. McKnights Senior Living. https://www.mcknightsseniorliving.com/news/virtual-assistant-virtual-reality-get-real-tests-at-civitas-senior-living/article/770063/. Accessed June 21, 2018.