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AGEWISE: Can voice recognition systems help older adults?

For The Winston-Salem Journal

Q: I use a voice recognition system at my home and am wondering if setting one up for my Mom and Dad would be helpful. Can you provide some insight?


Answer: Voice command technology, such as Alexa and Google Home devices, are tools that listen and respond to voice directions. Voice technology requires only an internet connection and a place to plug in. As voice command technology continues to become more popular, we can easily see how it has the potential to be a great resource for our loved ones as they age. These devices can be used to do a variety of tasks to assist older adults.

Each device comes with a set of instructions that can be followed step by step for easy installation. Some devices only have a speaker while others also include a video component. Those voice recognition systems with video, such as an Echo Show, do typically cost more over speaker only systems like the Echo Dot. Prices range from about $50 to $200 with and without video. Keep in mind you may need to purchase additional products if you wish to connect your system to other devices such as televisions, computers, lights, temperature controls, faucets, security systems and audible streaming to name a few.

Technology such as this is especially helpful for seniors with physical limitations and those who live alone. A voice recognition system can be set up to remind a person to take medications, turn off the oven, start the dishwasher, and even help with prompts for activities of daily living. Reminders can be programmed for doctor’s appointments, upcoming visits, and the system can even be used to keep a grocery list up-to-date. If your parents have difficulty seeing texts and emails voice assisted technology can read these messages to them. Another important benefit is the ability to call for help should a loved one fall or otherwise be unable to reach a phone for assistance.

Voice recognition technology provides updates to the weather and can alert you to hurricanes, tornadoes and thunderstorms. Reminders can be set to pay bills and automatic payments can even be set up with these systems. Devices like Alexa can answer random questions such as how many ounces are in a cup, too.

Since loneliness is sometimes a concern for older adults these devices can help people more easily connect without having to log in or enter a phone number. Speaking a command such “Alexa, call Linda at home” can immediately connect your loved one to other friends and family. Connecting visually is a great advantage but, each person would need to have the same device to see each other.

There are a number of virtual assistants available from Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, and Google. Some are geared for assisting seniors specifically. These include Phillo which focuses on health needs and medications. Another assistant, Orbita, aims to introduce voice recognition to health care and ElliQ communicates with seniors by suggesting activities and allowing family members to check in on their loved one. It can even read the person’s body language.

Many of these devices come with a free trial period for you to see what will be the best fit for your situation. Voice recognition technology is here to stay and could possibly help seniors remain in their homes longer living independently. It can also provide peace of mind for caregivers like yourself. A recent article in the New York Times reviewed a number of devices and the benefits for seniors. Visit for more information.

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