What you haven’t heard about ‘Alexa’? Why would you be interested in her you ask, you’re in a committed relationship already.

She is the new girl one the technology block and she might have something to offer you in aged or home care.

Well ‘Alexa’ isn’t your average companion – she is a smart speaker (companion). She can help you or your clients with many of their everyday needs. It would therefore pay you to take a look at Alexa and her colleagues to see how she might enhance the lives and experience of those you care for.

Smart speakers like ‘Alexa’ changing the ‘home care’ world?

I was only the other day writing about ways in which our world is changing around us and Alexa, and her colleagues, represent one such shift in our world. Don’t believe me? Then take the time to read the latest on how smart speakers are in part replacing mobile phones for owners of both. This report shares the prediction that more of us will be owning a ‘digital voice assistant’ in the near future

Replacing mobile phone use how you ask? Well people are turning to smart speakers to get the answers, play games and turn on/off appliances that they used to use an app on their phone for.

Perhaps you know her by her other names or have become acquainted with her other siblings without even knowing that ‘smart speakers’ are her pseudonym.

She has many brothers/sisters or hybrids, variously known as 1) Amazon Echo Dot, 2) Google Home 3) Lenovo Smart Assistant, 4) ivee, 5) Triby (smart speaker), 6) Fabriq (portable smart speaker) and 7) Jam (portable speaker) 8) Zetally Avy 9) Sony BSPO60, 10) Sonos Play and 11) Mycroft. Lets not forget Siri, Cortana and Google

Alexa has many skills but are the useful in aged care?

Alexa comes with many ‘skills sets’, which are essentially features that can be linked to your Alexa smart speaker to use in home. Similarly other smart speakers have features that can be linked with the product for you to access via voice command. One such skill set has been specifically designed for the aged care market – AskMarvee – and no doubt more are to come!

The list of questions/help you can get from a smart speaker seems somewhat limitless to a newbie like me. So it would seem that there are many possibilities opened up to you, your home and clients if you begin to explore smart speakers.

Is there a place for Alexa, or her siblings, in aged care?

It would seem so – there has already been some aged care providers partnering with tech companies to implement and trial the use of smart speakers in aged care. I have also seen online Q&A about the use of such technology among aged care professionals on LinkedIn. So it would seem the interest and usage is growing

It is early days but one can imagine that very quickly we will be seeing more and more of this type of technology in aged care homes and in our clients own homes as they, their families and providers recognise the value of such technology.

And there is more work being done across the globe on the possible alternative uses for this technology.

img_1650.jpgDon’t ignore privacy and security concerns with Alexa in aged care

Such technology is not without its privacy and security considerations. Some of these concerns relate to the use of WiFi and internet, while others relate to the microphones always being on and data being retained by the speakers system. The speakers switch on when the questions are asked (as per the link above ‘questions/help you can get from a smart speaker’). Some speakers do come with a mute button to allay these concerns.

Not just privacy issues are being sparked by this technology. There is also a debate about

  • their use with children in the home might help in developing social skills.
  • The use of a female persona and voice for these assistants and what signals is this sending;
  • How our personal data will drive algorithms and those who will be ‘paying’ our assistant will be the advertisers as our choices might be more and more driven by the needs of the platform owner

Are Alexa and her mates here to stay in aged care?

Will this trend catch on – well according to users in Carlsbad by the Sea retirement village in US they can’t get enough of Alexa. Their feedback has been positive with minor glitches like Alexa’s voice (or that of similar smart speakers), asking the right question and being clear in your request. Obviously some of these issues need to be ironed out for an older cohort of clients but they don’t seem insurmountable. A the date on sales referred to above would seem to indicate they are here to stay.

Not a ‘early adopter’ – wait awhile, the case might become more compelling

You might like to wait awhile while this technology and its user-friendliness improves. Some argue that the artificial intelligence (AI) platforms are still in a state of ‘flux’ and each system has its own drawbacks and benefits. You might want to wait while the market sorts itself out and a key player dominates and sorts out the bugs. While you are waiting though keep an eye on what is happening and the potential of voice activated assistance such as Alexa, Cortana, and Siri.

What experience have you had with this technology – Talk to me?

I’d love to hear from you if you’ve started to use this technology in your care environment – it would be great to share practical examples and tips to other aged care providers.

Update Stories in the press on Alexa in aged care

North Florida Retirement Village trial Alexa

Google setups Health and Wellness focus for voice activation for aged care