amazon echo

For a lot of people, smart home voice assistants like Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod are a luxury, a fun gadget that makes life just a little bit easier and more interesting.

For others, like those who need in-home care, they could be a life-changer.

Voice Assistants Provide Freedom

Voice companions and other smart home devices have the potential to dramatically improve quality of life for people with disabilities, the elderly, those who are sick or injured and others who need in-home care.

Smart devices can also provide peace of mind to loved ones and make the job of caregivers easier.

Family members and friends can use them to check in on their loved ones and get alerts if something goes wrong. They enable those who need care to do more on their own, increasing their sense of freedom and reducing their need for a caregiver.

How Home Devices Can Help

Those who have trouble getting up and moving around or those who can’t use their arms or legs might need someone there to help them complete tasks, even those as simple as opening the blinds, answering a phone call or unlocking the front door.

If they have a smart home assistant and other connected devices, they can use their voice to tell their voice assistant to complete these tasks for them. If they have a smart thermostat, they could tell Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or whichever assistant they have to adjust the temperature for them.

If they have a smart front door lock, they could tell their device to unlock the door to let someone in or lock it when they go to bed at night.

The ability to do even small tasks like these can increase freedom immensely.

A startup called HoneyCo is tailoring smart home technology toward senior citizens.

It offers smart home tech as one all-inclusive package designed to make life easier for older folks who need some care, but still want to live independently. They can even set up motion sensors in a home that will send an alert to a family member or caregiver if they don’t go off for an extended period, indicating the resident hasn’t been moving around.

Challenges

HoneyCo seeks to remedy one of the most significant challenges associated with outfitting your home with smart gear:

It can be technically complex, and it’s hard to know exactly what you need, even for those familiar with this kind of technology.

Cost is another barrier that keeps some from using smart tech in their homes.

Several nonprofits exist to provide smart home devices to people with disabilities, but not nearly enough to help the 57 million Americans who have a disability. More organizations may start doing in this in the future, and the price will eventually come down, but, for now, cost is still a major challenge.

Most companies that make smart home devices haven’t specifically designed or marketed them to the elderly or people with disabilities, either, which might also slow their adoption by this population.

Startups like HoneyCo have started to change this, as have some of the big players in the tech and communications fields, like Google, AT&T and Comcast. Google-owned smart home company Nest uses feedback from blind users in its product design, and Comcast designed its voice-activated TV navigation system with blind people in mind.

Another significant challenge in getting those who need home care is convincing them to take the smart home plunge. This step can be a surprisingly big hurdle, especially for older people who are not familiar with technology.

They may fear for their privacy, think it may be too complicated for them to operate or believe it will require a mess of wires running all over the house.

Resistance to trying new tech is the issue Jim Godek ran into, according to a CNET article, when he wanted to get his 95-year-old mother an Amazon Echo to read audiobooks to her after she started losing her sight.

She eventually agreed to try it, though, and almost a year later, she’d listened to 178 audiobooks — a perfect example of the kind of freedom smart home devices and voice assistants can provide.


Image courtesy of Amazon Alexa’s press photos.

Written by Kayla Matthews
Kayla Matthews writes about medical technologies and news developments for publications like The Week, BioMed Central and Kareo's Go Practice Blog. To read more posts by Kayla, visit her on Twitter @KaylaEMatthews or check out her website: http://productivitybytes.com.

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6 Comments

  1. My husband has so enjoyed his “Alexa”. He can check the weather, news updates, listen to music, and has “read” so many books.

    He is a quadriplegic with vision issues. Just those few things have given him some independence and a lot of enjoyment.

    Reply
  2. In our case it would be disastrous . All I need is for someone else to start giving out commands and upgrade the level of chaos .

    Reply
  3. Most won’t understand my husband whose speech was affected due to a stroke. Very frustrating for him.

    Reply
  4. We recently purchased an amazon echo to interface with our Control4 system. The voice commands for the lights, thermostat, and entertainment center have been a wonderful addition for my disabled husband.

    Reply
  5. I purchased the Amazon Dot for my 87 year old and she purchased the Amazon Echo when they were on sale (during the Amazon yearly giant sale). She uses it all the time (she lives alone) and she loves it. She talkes to “Alexa” and asks her a million questions but my Mom really loves that she can play music all the time. I would say, if you can afford it, it’s a good companion for an elderly person(s). And, after several tries, she finally remembered the name “Alexa”. It was very cute.

    Reply

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