There are a growing number of ‘digital assistants’ available today from major brands like Google, Amazon and Apple. Whether you choose to introduce Alexa or Siri or any other all-knowing robot personality in to your home, know that they each offer slightly different benefits as well as a few common functions that can greatly improve the lives of those living with Alzheimer’s, especially during the earlier stages.
Most digital assistants are presented as novel ways to automate your ‘smart home’ and run complicated tasks, but they also excel at some very basic but useful tasks and can easily help with menial or repetitive questions from those who might have a hard time remembering the day, time, or even what city they are in! Here are a few reasons that you might consider adding a ‘digital caregiver’ to your team:
If your loved one asks for the time or date 40 times an hour, Siri wont blink or an eye or issue a single groan when answering. Not only will this lighten the load for the caregiver, but it can also remove feelings of guilt or embarrassment that might accompany needing constant reminders. A computer never gets frustrated, annoyed or tired. If your mother wakes up in the middle of the night and asks what time it is – the time is 4:30am. No problem.
Pencil Me In
One of the basic functions that all digital assistants include is calendar integration. You can easily pre-program alerts for anything from doctor visits to family birthdays. These gentle, automated reminders can do wonders in helping someone with Alzheimer’s feel that they are current and on top of things. You can even program recurring alerts such as, “It’s now 9pm. Time to put on your pajamas and get in to bed.” or “The time is 7:30pm, Wheel of Fortune is about to start on Channel 7,” not to mention some more important reminders like when to take medications.
Look ma, no hands!
There is no physical contact or dexterity required to use most smart devices. The user simply speaks at normal volume and pace and can ask questions like, “Alexa – what time is it?” or “what day is it” or “read me today’s news headlines” or even “turn on the bedroom lights” if you have smart bulbs linked to your system (but that might be another blog!). This means that interaction can happen any time, anywhere without having to get out of a chair or bed.
One unexpected perk for caregivers is that most digital assistants keep a record of every query, which can be viewed by the caregiver to paint a picture of how and when they were used. If you see a lot of activity at night or in the early mornings, it might let you know when the most help is needed, for instance. You might notice a lot of requests for the time, or for help, or asking medical or personal questions. These requests can be very telling, and it’s nice to have a record of what is going on when you’re not around.
Amazon’s Alexa, in particular, is directly connected with the Audible audio book store, which features more than 100,000 titles, many of which are free. You simply say, “Alexa, play ’50 Shades of Grey’ on Audible,” and off she goes. If audio books are a bit much, you can even request something as simple as rain, thunder or whale sounds to help sleep come a bit easier. The same goes with requesting just about any song, record, artist or style of music which can instantly stream from any number of music platforms (Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music etc.)The positive benefits of music are well known, so making access this simple is a huge bonus and worth the price of admission alone!
These ideas just scratch the surface of how a digital assistant can improve caregivers’ lives by improving the lives of loved ones with Alzheimer’s or dementia. We’ll dig in to specific apps and ‘skills’ in future blogs, but encourage you to shop devices and grow your caregiving team with a little help from ‘the cloud’. There are many options to choose from with prices ranging from around $35 up to $200+, depending on size and volume, although most offer very similar functionality.
Amazon Echo Dot
Google Home Assistant
All Apple iPhones come with Siri built in at no extra charge.
And if all of this tech talk is giving you a headache, here’s a little comic relief to help you start the weekend.
I have just finished reading the article about Glen Campbell in the Parade section of the Sunday newspaper. I am 85 years old and he was always a part of my music genre. As a matter of fact I have a granddaughter living in Nashville so country music is still big for us. His battle with Alzheimers disease is also a part of my life as my husband suffered from the same incidious disease and died in a nursing home in 2013. What most people don’t understand is that ordinary people do not have the financial ability to choose the best facility for their loved one. In my case I lost my home and every payment was a struggle. I own a 2004 car and rent my residence living on social security. I find it hard to understand why more emphasis is not addressed to helping caregivers in their financial difficulties. We can go to support groups and learn some ways to help our situation but no one addresses the outlandish costs of nursing homes. Perhaps Kim Campbell and your organization can turn your attention to this matter. Thank you for your time. Sincerely, Marilyn Winograd
This is something that we feel very strongly about and is at the forefront of our mission in helping caregivers. The false stigma that surrounds the amazing benefits of long-term memory care is trouble enough, that most people can’t afford it is really insult to injury. We spoke on Capitol Hill in DC last year to help raise billions in Alz. funds, and hope to do that again this year, raising awareness of the financial, emotional and mental plight of caregivers and families. The quality needs to go up, and the prices down. We couldn’t agree more!