Digital assistants – also called smart speakers, home assistants or virtual assistants – have exploded in use since being introduced in late 2014 by Amazon. By 2022, 94.9 million smart speakers had been sold, according to Voicebot.
About 29% of adults ages 50 and over have adopted digital assistants, according to AARP. Their research shows that use of technology like smart speakers is only growing among seniors. This virtual technology, like Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri and Google Assistant, can help seniors with simple tasks and can keep them connected.
Find out about the technology of smart speakers, how they can be helpful to seniors, some of the facts and fallacies about them, and some of the best home assistants for seniors.
What Is a Smart Speaker?
Smart speakers, or digital assistants, are a combination loudspeaker and voice command device run by Wi-Fi access. They use artificial intelligence software to respond to spoken questions or commands. They can vary from the size of a doughnut to larger than a coffee can.
WIth use of a triggering “hot word” or words, like “Hey Siri,” “Alexa” or “OK Google” (or words you program it to respond to), the device is activated by the user. It then can carry out a number of commands. It can also connect with other “smart” devices in a house.
8 Things You Can Do With Digital Assistants
- Control ‘smart’ devices – If you have a “smart” thermostat, TV or lightbulbs, you can control them through your assistant.
- Find your phone – Ask your assistant to call your phone if you can’t find it, and your ringer should go off.
- Get weather forecasts – By adding your ZIP code to your profile, you can ask what the weather is like locally. You can also ask for weather in places where friends and family live, or a travel destination.
- Hear news reports – You can get news summaries from the source of your choice, such as CNN, Fox, NPR, etc. You can also get local headlines.
- Listen to audiobooks – If you buy your audiobooks from services like Google Play or Amazon, they can be played from the company’s device.
- Make shopping lists – Tell your speaker to add something to your list, and it’s taken care of. You can retrieve the list later on your smartphone or smartwatch, or use the list to order online.
- Play music – Your speaker will play any genre of music you ask it to, or can play from streaming services like Pandora and Spotify.
- Set timers and reminders – You can set timers for tasks, like turning the stove off to changing a load of laundry. You can put appointments and other events on your calendar. You can also set daily alarms and reminders to take your medications.
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Why Should Seniors Consider Digital Assistants?
As you can see, digital assistants can take care of a lot of your daily routines with minimal help. That can be a big help for older adults with arthritis, hand tremors, impaired vision or limited mobility.
With a personal digital assistant, seniors don’t have to dig through passwords or multiple menus, or find the right app. The assistant can set everything up and knows where notes go. It can set up routines and make sure you’re on schedule.
Digital assistants can also provide companionship to a senior. The speakers have their own “personality” and voice. They can converse with seniors, which encourages connection and offers an alternative to the isolation of having nobody to talk to.
With routines and reminders set a certain way, assistants can greet seniors when they wake up with a weather report, news headlines, reminders of upcoming appointments, a morning affirmation or scriptural verse and a gentle reminder to have breakfast. These reminders can help seniors take care of themselves.
What Are the Best Virtual Assistants for Seniors?
There are many different brands of digital virtual assistant speakers, from Google to Sonos to Echo to Nest and beyond. Each will offer its own pros and cons, and will connect to different digital assistants. Of course, the speakers work best with their proprietary assistant programs – Amazon Echo with Amazon Alexa, Google Home with Google Assistant, and the like.
Here are the five major digital assistants available.
Alexa is built into Amazon Echo digital speakers and will access your Amazon account. Some third-party speakers, like Sonos, connect to Alexa.
This is the virtual assistant started by Samsung. It is compatible with Samsung smartphones and other Samsung devices.
Microsoft is also in the virtual digital assistant game with Cortana. It’s installed into Windows 10 computers and can be downloaded to Android and Apple devices. Harman Kardon speakers connect with Cortana. Also, since it’s Microsoft, the default search is through Bing, not Chrome.
4. Google Assistant
Google Assistant available on the Google Home smart speaker, along with many Android and Google Pixel smartphones. It will connect with your Google accounts, like Gmail. Some third-party speakers connect to Google Assistant.
This is probably the most recognized virtual assistant, run by Apple. It works on all Apple products like Apple TV, Apple Watch, iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple’s smart speaker, the HomePod.
In the end, the best virtual assistant for seniors may be the one they’re already set up to use.
Consider whether you already have an account with one of the major companies. For example, if you have an iPhone or Apple Watch, you’ll be able to seamlessly connect to an Apple HomePod. If you have an account with Amazon, you’ll be able to work easily with an Amazon Echo.
Facts and Fallacies About Digital Assistants for Seniors
Some people are concerned about using digital assistants because of misinformation about how they work. Here are some myths and truths about digital assistants.
- Smart speakers record everything you say – Speakers are designed to listen for their “hot word,” such as “OK Google” or “Alexa,” and they do collect information about how they’re used. If you’re concerned about privacy, you can disable that function in its settings, or just turn the speaker off temporarily.
- Smart speakers are too complicated – Digital assistants can integrate with smartphones, which can help make them easier to use. Also, the better they are set up, the easier they are to use, so read the instructions carefully when you set it up to make it easier later.
- Smart speakers can be hacked – True, security breaches can happen, but smart speaker companies are always upgrading their software to protect customers. That said, it is still wise to be selective about what information to share with the assistant, just as you’d be careful what you do with your phone on a public Wi-Fi system – for example, if you have banking or personal health concerns.
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