Aging at home is the goal of most people, but when we live with disabilities and chronic health conditions, it can be challenging. Technology devices can help. In fact, “smart speakers” are increasingly becoming common for older adults and family caregivers to make it easier to age at home.
Smart speakers can help those experiencing challenges around mobility, cognitive functioning (including organization and memory), fine motor skills, hearing, vision, driving, and isolation. Once it’s set up, all you need to do is talk to or listen to a smart speaker.
What are “smart speakers” and how do they operate?
Smart speakers are convenient, WIFI-connected devices that integrate with apps to play music, radio stations, and books, and they have “smart assistants” that perform tasks for you. They operate with hands-free voice commands, and most have a default “trigger” word that lets the smart speaker know you are talking to it. Stand-alone smart speakers are set up using a smartphone or tablet, and apps can be integrated to help with a wide variety of tasks, including “smart home” devices. Some smart speakers come with built-in screens, adding a visual component. While there are others, some of the most common smart speaker lines are:
- Amazon Echo (Alexa)
- Google Nest Mini and Nest Hub (Google Assistant – Hey Google)
- Apple’s HomePod/HomeKit (Siri)
- Samsung (Bixby)
How can smart speakers help with day-to-day life at home?
- Set up alarms, reminders, and timers. The smart speaker can alert you to appointments, schedules, and tasks, such as time to wake up or go to sleep, doctor visits, medication reminders, plant watering times, meal and activity times, phone calls, favorite television programs, turning off appliances, and more. Ask the speaker to set a timer to let you know when food is done cooking or if you’ve exercised long enough.
- Set up “routines” for certain commands that will automatically have the speaker do certain tasks. For example, “good morning” could induce it to say the date/time, turn on lights, raise the blinds, turn up the thermostat, remind you of safety precautions (such as “remember to use your walker), tell you about your appointments that day, and remind you to call your daughter.
- Make lists or notes for to-do tasks or shopping (groceries, household supplies, personal care supplies, etc.). The speaker can read the list to you with your voice command. For some integrated apps, family caregivers can also view the list and easily do the tasks or shopping for you.
- Shop or order transportation or food delivery. Setting up a ride or ordering food for delivery is easier with voice commands.
- Communicate and socialize by making and receiving phone calls with loved ones. Smart speakers with screens allow for video calls. Smart speakers can also be synchronized with caregiving monitoring systems to notify caregivers of your activities.
- Enjoy cognitive stimulation, entertainment, and learning by listening to favorite music (great for exercising or relaxing), radio shows, podcasts, news, weather, poetry, and books. The smart speaker can also turn on your smart television (especially handy when you can’t find the remote or have mobility challenges).
- Care for pets by setting up feeding time reminders and commands to start a “smart” pet food feeder, or a door opener to let the dog out, and close it when the dog comes back in.
How can smart speakers help with safety at home?
- Secure your home by integrating with smart home features like security systems, door locks, security cameras, and motion sensors. Video doorbells that are integrated with smart speakers with built-in screens, can show you who is at the door so you can ask it to unlock or lock it or speak with the person.
- Call for help by asking the smart speakers to call a designated emergency contact. Some can integrate with an app for a service (usually a paid subscription) or a medical alert system that can call your emergency contacts or call 911 for you.
- Turn on lights or open blinds – Lack of lighting can cause falls, so smart speakers can synchronize voice commands with smart lights, smart plugs, and smart blinds. Set up reminders to turn on the lights at a certain time.
- Set up reminders to use safety devices, like a medical alert or monitoring system, walker, cane, or shower chair.
Where can I get help with a smart speaker?
Usually, a family member, caregiver, or friend can help set up and manage a smart speaker, but if not, you can learn and get assistance in several ways:
- The AARP Personal Technology Resource Center offers articles and easy-to-understand videos, and their OATS (Older Adults Technology Services) and Senior Planet programs offer virtual and in-person classes on tech use.
- Companies that focus specifically on tech support and education for older adults include Generations on Line, Cyber-Seniors, and Candoo.
- The Association of Assistive Technology Act Programs – offers a listing of programs in every state for people with disabilities, functional limitations, or chronic health conditions. The programs demonstrate how to use devices, loan devices (to try them out before you purchase), and provide used devices.
Amy Goyer is a caregiving expert and author of Juggling Life, Work, and Caregiving. A passionate champion for caregivers, she has also been one her entire adult life, caring for her grandparents, parents, sister, and others. Connect with Amy on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.