Staff at a Victoria retirement home have been testing the voice-activated assistant Alexa to help keep seniors engaged.
Residents at Berwick Retirement Communities have been testing out the virtual assistant, with reminders to take their medication and what time is dinner.
With a prompt of “Good morning,” Alexa can be programmed to turn the lights on, say the date and time, and give a weather forecast.
“The most important thing for a senior is a purpose to get up and do the day,” said Amir Hemani, chief operations officer of the company, which has locations across B.C.
“We onboard the residents to get into a suite, give them an orientation and demonstrate and lead them with it.”
Most seniors are generally not fluent in technology and don’t own a laptop or iPad, said Hemani, who is part of the Aging 2.0 Vancouver Chapter which helps keep his finger on the pulse for the latest technology and best practices of innovations for seniors.
Some may be visually impaired, have cognitive issues, can’t read, or have reduced mobility. Alexa is completely verbal and programmed for voice-activated requests.
Staff have done three months of testing for one of their visually impaired residents in Victoria, and has put Alexa in common areas of the facility.
If all goes well, Hemani said Alexa would become a standard feature in every suite when people move in. It could be ready as soon as next spring to be used in the newest retirement community being built in Qualicum Beach.
Sylvia Ceacero, CEO of B.C. Seniors Living Association, agrees that the social piece – keeping seniors connected is important.
“For all of us, socializing and networking has a direct influence on our health and well-being,” she said.
While technology offers many benefits, Hemani added, there’s nothing that can replace receiving a hug from a loved one.
“Physical touch is hard to replace from a technology alternative,” he said. “It makes us want to stretch a little further to see how we can help. When things are reduced for our seniors, we need to find out how to bridge the gap.”