Recently, Aging 2.0, a global network focused on a collaborative, lifestyle-oriented, opportunity-driven approach to aging, published information on eight areas that present the biggest challenges and opportunities for people to “age in place,” or stay in their homes as they get older.
The eight areas Aging 2.0 addressed are financial wellness, mobility and movement, daily living and lifestyle, brain health, end of life, and three more topics in which voice technology can play a role. They are engagement and purpose, caregiving, and care coordination.
Engagement and Purpose
According to Aging 2.0, the 55- to 64-year olds of today are less likely to be married and less likely to have close ties to families and friends than did people of the same age 20 years ago. This may mean that fewer elderly people in our society have someone at home or someone nearby who can assist in providing care.
Family members who do provide care to an elderly relative have lives of their own, with various work and family responsibilities. The added onus of caring for an elderly loved one is made more difficult if the caregiver does not live close by. To be successful, these caregivers can benefit from resources and tools to make their jobs easier. In fact, over 80% of caregivers say that they could use more information or help on caregiver topics.
It is estimated that nearly half of all Americans live with one chronic condition, and as many as 30 million live with five or more chronic conditions. Managing one—let alone five—chronic conditions undoubtedly requires access to a lot of information and requires a lot of coordination.
It is clear that there are challenges in helping the elderly age in place and in helping the people who care for them. Given the versatility of voice applications, we see their use as a way to help people meet the challenges and reap the benefits of aging in place.
Unique benefits of voice
I have explored the benefits of voice in other blog posts, but as a review, voice as a means of interfacing with both people and devices has many obvious advantages.
First, speaking is natural to humans. Most of us develop speaking skills at a very early age. Second, voice is a fast means of communication. The average person speaks about 140 words per minute, where the average business professional can type 85 words per minute. Someone who has impairments, such as dexterity or vision issues, as many elderly do, will likely type at a slower pace. Finally, voice is an accessible interface in many places where typing is not. This includes while driving, in the shower, or in the kitchen when hands may be dirty or occupied doing something else.
Additional benefits of voice for the elderly
Beyond being a good interface for people who have dexterity or sight issues, there are other benefits of voice for elderly people.
Voice assistants have no ego—Anyone who has used one knows a voice assistant never gets annoyed when you ask the same question again and again. It just does its job, responding to your request no matter how many times you ask.
The ability to speak persists—Motor skills and eyesight may diminish over time, but as people age, they maintain the capacity to speak.
Voice assistants empower patients to administer their own care—Voice assistants can be designed to offer patients tools, education, and guidance they need to take care of themselves. This means that there is less need for intervention from other caregivers. For an elderly person whose spouse has died or is similarly challenged, or whose children have moved away, interacting with a voice assistant may give the person the knowledge, guidance, and skills they need to be self-sufficient.
Testing the benefits of voice assistants for the elderly
Parker Life, a not-for-profit aging services organization based in New Jersey, recognizes the potential for voice assistants in elderly care. They are starting a study to determine the impact of this technology for the elderly in one of their care facilities. They specifically plan to look at how voice assistants can improve quality of life, a sense of independence, and engagement in the administration of their healthcare.
With voice assistants, the participants in the study will be able to schedule their own appointments, track their health and wellness goals (such as classes and number of steps walked), and monitor their adherence to their medicines.
In a similar, completed trial, the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Well-being launched an Amazon Alexa study with the goals determining if a voice assistant could promote independence and self-management, improve communication between family members, caregivers, and older adults, and increase social interaction and engagement. The results were encouraging.
The methods and results of these studies shine a light on the potential of voice assistants in elder care. To learn more about the studies and the potential benefits of voice assistant for this population, watch the Webinar co-sponsored by Orbita and Parker Health.