Ask Alexa: How Can Voice Assistant Technology Enhance Independent Living?
Updated 11.23.20 from a post originally published 12.9.19.
Voice assistant technology is transforming the lives of users of all ages. But in senior living especially, access to an easy-to-use smart speaker means that all a resident has to do is talk to Alexa to feel more connected to their community, no special abilities required.
And during the COVID-19 pandemic, voice technology is an excellent way to keep residents both informed about key updates and comforted while they’re unable to see family and friends.
If you’re interested in voice assistants in senior living, read on to learn how these devices make an impact in every area of a senior living resident’s life and how you can bring this technology to your campus.
How Many Seniors Are Using Voice Assistants?
Voice assistants are on track to become a staple of modern tech use. NPR and Edison Research’s 2019 Smart Audio Report found that more than 53 million Americans now own a voice assistant. That’s nearly one in three households. And in the three years since Amazon launched Alexa for widespread use, its adoption has outpaced that of smartphones and tablets.
But wait, older adults are typically technology-shy, right? That’s a misconception – 68 percent of Baby Boomers own smartphones, and 59 percent use social media, according to Pew Research Center. Adults above the age of 74 are using more tech these days, too: the same study shows that nearly 40 percent of the Silent Generation have smartphones.
In other words, older adults are increasingly open to using technology. What makes voice technology so great for senior living, though, is that it has no learning curve.
Users in a senior living community can talk to smart speakers the way they’d speak naturally. A resident can simply ask, “Alexa, what’s for dinner?” This is a recent improvement – earlier iterations of this technology required the user to signal what kind of information they’re asking for by starting with, “Ask my community.”
Now, a number of senior living companies across the country have rolled out voice assistant fleets, and many senior living communities are beta testing smart speaker programs.
Voice Assistants Can Offer Everyday Administrative, Clinical, and Emotional Support to Seniors
We’ve established that smart speakers are easy to use, and a lot of people are excited about them. But how can they improve senior living residents’ everyday lives?
Voice assistants weave together community information, medical data, and personalized preferences to give residents access to an all-in-one support network.
On the administrative side, voice assistants can solve many of the common pain points in community-wide communication. On the whole, communities struggle to circulate information, and residents with memory loss and mobility limitations may easily forget or miss announcements.
Because smart speakers are installed in a resident’s room, they not only transmit the information the community needs to get to residents – residents can also get the information they want from right where they are. With a voice assistant, residents can do things like:
- Submit a maintenance request.
- Ask for the daily weather forecast.
- Find out what social events are happening that evening.
- Hear the lunch menu.
- Ask about their community’s COVID-19 status.
Smart speakers can also help residents manage their individual healthcare needs. As of earlier this year, Amazon Alexa became HIPAA-compliant, which means it can securely transmit residents’ health information – or electronic health records (EHRs) – without compliance violations.
Residents can use Alexa to:
- Book medical appointments.
- Access hospital post-discharge instructions.
- Check on a prescription status.
- Set medication reminders.
Voice technology can actually help prevent isolation and loneliness in older adults, which has been a major public health concern during COVID-19 quarantines and lockdowns.
The simple act of interacting with Alexa every day can make a resident feel more connected and provide familiarity. Plus, voice assistants can create a sense of comfort tailored to a resident’s preferences. Residents can:
- Hear the nightly news.
- Listen to their favorite music.
- Ask for their friend’s phone number – or have their speaker send them a message.
How to Roll Out a Fleet of Smart Speakers in a Senior Living Community
The good news for community executives looking to take the first step toward voice assistant deployment is that this technology is fairly inexpensive, and the devices require minimal setup and are easy to manage.
But every senior living community has unique needs and concerns, and voice assistants might not work for every resident or every community. Test the waters first with a pilot program, constantly seek community feedback, and build a plan for a full integration from there. Providers like Amazon, too, can address feedback: if a voice assistant is talking too fast, a provider can slow it down, for instance.
A major component of the deployment process will be training staff and residents to ensure everyone is using them safely and efficiently.
Guide residents through the transition and show them how they can benefit from a voice speaker’s services. Host a workshop for residents about best practices for using their device. Or provide residents with a list of useful questions they can ask their smart speaker.
Importantly, though, voice assistants rely on a strong network connection, which means communities will need to invest in the necessary IT support. An IT consultant might be helpful to ensure privacy and take precautions against hacking and system breaches.
Senior Living Voice Technology Helps Residents Feel More Connected
Assisted living voice assistants make seniors’ lives more independent: residents can ask and receive the information and support they need instantly from their own rooms. Through tailored administrative, clinical, and emotional support, these devices make the senior living experience feel more personalized.
As the next generation of older adults move into senior living and must choose the community that makes them feel most at home, voice technology will become a differentiator as it makes its way into more campuses across the country.