Studies suggest that one in four Americans are using virtual assistants like Siri and Alexa to control their smart devices and access the Internet. However, older adults are much less likely to use these handy apps. That’s a shame because they’re missing out on so many features that can make life easier and keep them safe. So what do these digital assistants bring to the table? Why do some seniors struggle, and how can you help them use these programs?
How Can Virtual Assistants Help a Senior?
Virtual assistants work off of voice commands. They can also control smart devices around the home. This means that people with vision impairment, limited mobility, arthritis, or hand tremors can still use these household gadgets. They can adjust the thermostat, play audiobooks and more, without even leaving the couch.
These programs also streamline the smartphone experience. Older users don’t need to remember passwords, hunt through multiple layers of menus, or find the right app in a sea of options. The assistant handles all of this. At a simple request, seniors can video conference with loved ones or learn the score of Sunday’s game.
Virtual assistants also offer future proofing. Technology may continue to get more complicated, but the older user doesn’t need to worry about that. A virtual assistant will upgrade to handle these innovations.
Safety and Medications
Virtual assistants can make life safer for a senior. If your loved one is one of the 36 million seniors a year who fall, the assistant will contact emergency services. It can pull up maps and track locations if your loved one gets lost. These programs also remind older users to take medicine, and even tell the doctor about missed doses.
One note on placing too much burden on the phone, however, is that some applications may be better served by separate devices made specifically for the task. Fall detection is still in its infancy in smartphones, and wearable tech and smart home medical alert systems are currently more foolproof than virtual assistants, although their day is surely coming.
That said, a phone assistant can provide companionship and support a daily routine better than most other devices. For instance, when a senior says ‘Good Morning,’ a virtual assistant might unmute, give the forecast or cheerful affirmations, and gently prompt them to take medication and have breakfast. These reminders help older users take care of themselves and stay happy and productive.
Which Voice Assistant s thIe Best?
The big five on the market are all produced by major tech manufacturers. These are Alexa from Amazon, Siri from Apple, Google’s Nest, Cortana from Microsoft, and Bixby from Samsung. There’s a lot of overlap in function and capabilities here. They will all upgrade continuously as the field evolves, so Instead of looking for ‘the best’ it’s probably most useful for any senior to stay with the branded equipment they’re already comfortable with.
Common Issues and How To Fix Them
Some new users struggle with using digital assistants correctly or even getting them to work at all. Let’s take a look at some common concerns.
This is too complicated. If the new phone is too complicated for your elderly loved one, you may want to step back to an older model that the senior is more familiar with. See if one of the virtual assistant apps will work on it. And sometimes less is more. Digital assistants with fewer capabilities can actually be an advantage. These let seniors enjoy important functions without accidentally triggering some other command. Users can always upgrade to an assistant with all the bells and whistles later.
Can hackers get my information through this program? The tech companies that make these programs are constantly working to improve security. However, data breaches can still happen. Be selective about what information the voice assistant can access. For instance, you might allow the assistant to open personal email but deny access to a business email address.
Some things like healthcare consultations and banking may be better handled through a separate and highly secure portal. Standard security precautions such as changing passwords will always be useful.
Sometimes the assistant works and sometimes it doesn’t. Check that the phone’s battery is working and fully charged. It is? Test if there are areas of the house that don’t have a good signal. You may need to move the router to the center of the home or install a mesh Wi-Fi network. Some assistants also won’t answer if they don’t understand the command or the speaker.
My voice assistant can’t understand me! Start by checking the microphone. It may be blocked with dust and oils or have shorted out. Also, watch your loved one use the phone. Is the microphone blocked by the case or their palm?
If the senior has had a stroke or was intubated during surgery, their voice may have changed. There are settings to train the app to recognize a new speaking sound. Look in the menus for something like ‘voice match’ or ‘add a voice.’
Virtual Assistants With Real Benefits
Virtual assistants empower seniors. Voice-activated technology allows people who are struggling with a variety of aging-related changes and health issues to stay on top of housework, the news, and their schedules. These assistants also give caregivers and loved ones peace of mind. The programs can monitor the senior’s health and offer reminders. Emergency services or the local urgent care are also just a voice command away. Voice assistants have come far from their buggy beginnings, and they’ve come to help.