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How Smart Home Devices Like Amazon Alexa Shape Senior Living

When Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, none of us could have predicted how much our day-to-day lives would change. But it’s not an overstatement to say that smartphones have, in the last 16 years, shaped – or at least touched – every aspect of daily life.

Smart devices like the Amazon Alexa have the potential to do the same for senior living. The good news: smart home devices can make the experience of aging safer, easier, and even more fun.

Let’s take a look at the significant impacts Amazon’s Alexa and other smart home devices can have on senior living communities.

Amazon Alexa Gives Physical Superpowers to Senior Living Residents

Decreasing mobility is a common part of aging. Activities that people once did without thinking – getting up to adjust the thermostat or turn off the lights – may become difficult or even dangerous with weakening muscles, worsening balance, and declining vision.

This leads to decreased feelings of self-empowerment among some older adults. In a setting like senior living communities, it can also increase dependence on caregivers. When caregivers aren’t available, declining physical abilities can make life less comfortable – and more frustrating – nobody wants to sit in a brightly lit room when they’re ready to sleep.

Amazon Alexa and other smart home devices can eliminate many of those frustrations. Even the simplest functions (“Alexa, turn on the lights,” or “Alexa, turn up the heat”) can enormously improve a resident’s quality of life. And by empowering residents to alter their environment from the comfort of an armchair, these devices effectively give their users superpowers.

The impact of empowering residents to live independently longer on their mental health can transform the atmosphere in a senior living community. The impact on staff can be just as significant: when staff members know that residents have the ability to take care of their basic needs on their own, they feel less stress worrying about calls they can’t take immediately when they’re doing other work.

This can lead to greater job satisfaction and longer employee tenures, which benefits everyone involved. But smart home devices aren’t merely ability extenders. They also let residents more intentionally spend their time and energy on the things they care about most.

Amazon Alexa Lets Senior Living Residents Focus on What Matters

One senior living resident told us the story of a couple with an Echo in their home. The wife fell from her wheelchair. The husband shouted for the Echo to call security and went to his wife’s side to comfort her until help arrived.

The whole incident happened in a matter of minutes. And while the Echo sped up the calling of security slightly, its more important contribution was to make the experience much less stressful and traumatizing for the couple involved. Rather than having to make his way to first a phone and then his wife’s side, this resident was able to be where he needed to be to reassure his wife and keep her calm and comfortable until security got there.

Even if a resident never needs to use Alexa after a fall, the peace of mind (for residents, families, and staff) in knowing that they’ll be able to call for and get help if they should fall can ease anxiety and related concerns.

For staff, too, smart home tech means they can spend more time and be more present in meaningful resident interactions (from chatting about a recent birthday celebration to helping with ADLs), knowing that other residents are less likely to be waiting on them for, say, a thermostat adjustment.

But just as smartphones don’t simply make us more productive, smart home devices like the Amazon Alexa are good for more than increased functionality. They’re also just plain fun.

In Senior Living, Amazon Alexa Is Just Plain Fun

One resident with an Alexa in his unit mentioned that he loves using the grocery list feature. He loves telling Alexa to add things to the list as he notices a need and he loves clearing the list after a shopping trip (and the cheerful “Done!” when the device confirms). 

We’ve also heard anecdotes about residents who like to turn on music when they’re in the mood for it and residents who don’t go to sleep without checking the next day’s weather. Another popular use case: asking Alexa to resolve a friendly dispute that arises during book clubs or card games.

“Fun” may sound like a frivolous thing to highlight when we’re talking about life-changing technology, but it isn’t. In fact, it’s partly because Alexa and other smart home technologies are fun that people use them. And using these technologies regularly is crucial to ensuring that residents know how to use them in an emergency.

Devices Like Amazon Alexa Make Iconic Aging Possible

When we talk about “iconic” aging, we’re talking about an aging experience that involves making deep connections with other community members, maintaining holistic wellness, and offering a convenient way to go about your days and nights.

Smart home devices like Amazon’s Alexa contribute to all of those. And because they don’t require any special technical knowhow to operate, they also open up new worlds of information, entertainment, and connection to residents of all technical ability levels.Smart home tech is still relatively rare in senior living communities. But as more and more residents, families, and community leaders recognize its potential to enhance and enrich daily life, we believe smart home tech will become as ubiquitous as the smartphone.

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