How Alexa Can Help Seniors Remain Independent


Millions of Americans now own smart speakers like Amazon's Echo. While these speakers can make everyday tasks easier for all people, they can be particularly helpful for older adults. These speakers are voice-activated and use a virtual assistant named Alexa to perform tasks and answer questions. An Amazon Echo can be purchased for less than $50 and takes only minutes to set up. Here are the general set up steps:

  1. Download and open the Alexa app on a smartphone or tablet

  2. Select "Devices" in the lower right corner

  3. Press the plus sign in the top right corner and click "Add Device"

  4. Press the device you own, in this case the Echo (your specific generation)

  5. Plug in your device and wait for the outer light ring to turn orange (it is now in setup mode)

  6. The device will appear on the screen of your smartphone or tablet and you will be directed to your WiFi settings where you will select the network titled "Amazon"

  7. Return to the Alexa app and connect to your home Wifi network

  8. You can skip the step regarding external speakers unless you have a separate speaker

  9. Select the room where your device will be located

  10. Your device is now set up

Alexa can help with simple tasks, like playing a certain song, or help with more advanced things like controlling the temperature in your home. Here are a few reasons why Alexa is great for seniors:

  1. Can make daily tasks hands-free: Many seniors, as a result of the natural aging process, experience difficulties with their mobility and ability to write or use their hands. With the assistance of Alexa, tasks that were once difficult or painful can become easier.

  2. Helps those with vision problems retain independence. With Alexa, seniors with vision limitations can continue to perform many daily tasks using just their voice. For example, these seniors could listen to the news or hear weather forecasts without having to read a newspaper or watch television.

  3. Simplifies physical tasks. As our bodies age, it can become more difficult to make it up the stairs to turn off the lights or walk across the house to adjust the thermostat. If connected to other smart home technology, a virtual assistant like Alexa can be used to perform these tasks with minimal exertion.

  4. Enhances home safety. The majority of seniors express a desire to to age in place, or remain in their homes and communities for as long as possible. Living independently, however, comes with safety risks like falling down or not being able to call for help. If there is an emergency, Alexa can be a lifesaver. A smart speaker can can be used to contact caregivers or family members by voice command.

What are Alexa Skills?

In addition to the many capabilities built-in to an Amazon Echo speaker, it can also connect with third-party applications called Skills. A Skill adds another helpful capability to the speaker, allowing you to accomplish many additional tasks with just your voice. You can add Skills to your device by clicking "Enable" once you've found a Skill on Amazon's website (Found here). Here are a few examples of Alexa skills that could benefit seniors:

  1. Play music. Amazon Echo can connect to numerous music streaming services, making it easy to access your music playlists. Just say, “Alexa, play classical music.” 

  2. Make phone calls. Alexa can make a phone call without you even having to pick up your cell phone to make a call. You can do it all hands-free.

  3. Set reminders. It can be difficult for seniors to remember to take their very important medications. With Alexa, setting medication reminders is as simple as saying, “Alexa, remind me to take my medication at 8 AM.” Note you can also remind yourself when it’s time to leave for an appointment, when to take something out of the oven, etc.

  4. Make lists. You don’t need to find a pen or paper to make lists with Alexa. Simply say, “Alexa, make a list.” And then create a grocery list, to-do list, etc. Note that Alexa can create lists without having to download specific skills. 

  5. Listen to the news or check the weather. On Amazon's News Skills page, you can download content so you can hear news updates from CNN, Fox, The Washington Post, and others. This allows seniors to find out what’s going on in the world without turning on the TV or reading a newspaper. You could also download the Weather Channel Skills to get weather forecasts for any area!

  6. Control your lighting. If you also have a smart home, you can connect your lights to your Amazon Echo. This allows you to control your lighting by saying things like, “Alexa, turn on the lights” or, “Alexa, dim the lights.”

  7. Adjust the thermostat. If you have one, a smart thermostat can also be controlled by Alexa. You can just say, “Alexa, turn the heat up two degrees" or ask Alexa to set your thermostat for a specific temperature.

  8. Lock your doors. Seniors could also lock their doors with their voice if they have smart locks. This can give seniors peace of mind if they're already in bed and can't recall if they locked their front door.

Note: Smart home technology is offered by many companies, including ADT and Vivant, and may control lighting, climate, entertainment systems, appliances, and may also include home security control.