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Can Alexa Help Dementia Patients?

You may not think that someone with dementia or Alzheimer’s can use the Alexa product. But I have to say that there are several ways that Amazon’s Alexa device can benefit someone with cognitive issues and their family and caregiver(s) as well.

How can Alexa help dementia patients? – Alexa can answer questions, provide entertainment in the form of music, podcasts and audio books and Youtube videos through the Echo Show.  It can provide weather and news, be used to help to remember medications and other events and to manage devices such as lights in the home.

I do want you to know that someone with severe dementia or Alzheimer’s may find it very difficult to use a voice activated product like Alexa so don’t have the expectation that EVERYONE with dementia can benefit from an Alexa product.

But even in those cases – even though the individual with severe dementia, Alzheimer’s  (or other form of cognitive decline) may not be able to use the device, I can certainly say that Alexa would be a great benefit for the caregivers and families of those seniors with dementia.

What Can Alexa Do For Elderly Adults With Memory Problems?

We all have memory lapses and as we grow older we often get more of them – but with seniors who suffer from dementia, the memory problems are compounded.

Alexa can help with that.  Someone with dementia can ask Alexa questions like…

  • what year is it?
  • what day is it?
  • what’s going on this week? (for events on your own calendar)
  • what is my wife’s phone number? (or name a friend or relative)
  • what time is Jeopardy on tonight?
  • how many tablespoons in a cup?
  • when does (name of store or restaurant) close?

The wonderful thing about being able to ask Alexa questions like these and so many more is that you can ask her these questions as many times a day as you need to.  And if you are living with someone (or have lived with someone) who has dementia or Alzheimer’s, then you know that the same question can be asked multiple times a day.

In the article titled New Gadget May Provide Answers For Dementia Patients – Rick Phelps, who was diagnosed with early onset dementia at the age of 57, talks about Alexa and how helpful it has been for him.  Here’s what Mr. Phelps said in this article…

It has afforded me something that I have lost: my memory. I can ask Alexa anything and I get the answer instantly. I can also ask it what day it is 20 times each day, and I will still get the same correct answer. (It also doesn’t get annoyed with me.)

He also stresses that Alexa “…would not be something for someone in the later stages of the disease who has trouble speaking. But if you have a loved one who is repeatedly asking you the same questions, this may be the ticket. All they need to remember is their “wake word,” Alexa, Amazon or Echo.”

I do have to say that this is the one difficult aspect of using any of the Alexa products – the concept that in order to use it you do need to remember the “wake word”.  In addition – I have asked Alexa a question that she was unable to answer – but then when I asked the same question in a different way – she was then able to answer.

Of course, technology is ever changing and I am sure that the artificial intelligence that is currently being used in these voice activated devices will only get better.   But for now- although they are not perfect, they are pretty darn good – just don’t expect perfection at this point in time.

Can Alexa Remind You To Do Something?

Alexa can absolutely remind you to do something and it can also remind you of appointments, birthdays, etc.  Whatever you set up in your reminders skill – it will repeat that back to you at the time and date that you designated.

I use this feature often and I find myself relying on it quite a bit!

I use Alexa’s reminders skill to let me know that it’s time to take my medication, to take the laundry out of the dryer, to get ready for an appointment, to call my friend and many other different types of events.

You can also use Alexa as a timer to remind you to take the chicken out of the oven, that the pasta is done or that it’s time to rinse the color out of your hair!

Reminders can be set up daily, weekly or monthly.  The only limitation to this skill is that you cannot set up a reminder for the same day every month (such as the 10th of every month – as an example).  To get around this I recommend to put these kinds of reminders on the calendar that you associate with Alexa.

The Best Alexa Skills For Seniors With Dementia

Alexa devices come with some built in features but you can also add additional features as well.  Alexa calls these features “skills”.  As of the last count in September 2019, there are 100,00 skills that Alexa offers!

Here is a list of her skills listed on Amazon.

But, to see the list of skills available to you – do the following:

Open the Alexa app on your phone

  • Tap on the hamburger menu in the top left corner (the 3 short horizontal lines)
  • In the dropdown box tap on “Skills & Games”
  • You can then choose a skill from the Discover or Categories section or you can tap on the magnifying glass icon on the top right of your screen to search for a specific skill you may have read about.

The top skills that I can recommend for anyone with dementia or Alzheimer’s are as follows:

Ask The Date

There’s no special set up for this skill.  All Alexa devices come equipped with this skill.

Ask About The Weather

This is also a skill that is automatically built in to all Alexa devices.

Find Your Cell Phone

Again, another skill that is already built in to all Alexa devices.  You should be linked to your Amazon account and note that the first time you use this skill, Alexa will ask you for your phone number.

Listening To Music, Podcasts, Radio And Audio Books

Your Alexa is connected to your Amazon account.  This means that you can listen to audio books that you purchase through your Audible program  which is a part of Amazon. Yes, this is a membership program (Audible I mean) but listening to it through Alexa doesn’t cost you anything extra.

But, Audible does have a free audio book each month (I believe it’s every month) and to access this all you need to do is say “Alexa, what’s free on Audible?”

To get a little information on this skill do the following:

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone
  • Tap on the hamburger menu in the top left corner (the 3 short horizontal lines)
  • In the dropdown box tap on “Things To Try”
  • Then tap on “Entertainment”
  • Then tap on “Audiobooks”

Alert A Buddy

One of the best features Alexa offers for seniors is the ability to set up to 5 people as your “buddy” (technically it’s buddies I suppose) so that in case you need help you can ask Alexa to contact them immediately.  This can alert the people that you designated as buddies that you are in trouble and you need help.

How To Use The Buddy Skill

To alert the buddies that you have set up – you say “Alexa, ask my buddy to send help.”

Alexa then immediately sends a text, an email and a phone call to the people signed up on your Buddy list.

How To Set Up Your Buddy On Alexa

  • The first thing to do is to go to askmybuddy.net and register.  It’s free if you have fewer than 5 contacts and use 10 or fewer notifications in a 30 day period. From there, there are very minimal monthly fees.
  • Open the Alexa app on your phone
  • Tap on the hamburger menu in the top left corner (the 3 short horizontal lines)
  • In the dropdown box tap on “Skills & Games”
  • Tap on the magnifying glass icon in the top right and type in “buddy”
  • Choose the Ask My Buddy skills
  • Follow the instructions to register and set it up

Here’s a short video showing you how the Buddy Skill works.

Calling Your Contacts And/Or 911

The Alexa product can make phone calls two ways.

  1. You can use an external product called Echo Connect (you can make phone calls in the USA, Mexico and Canada).  The advantage of the Echo Connect is that you will be able to call 911.
  2. Connect your smartphone’s contact list to the Alexa app on your phone.

How To Use Alexa To Make Phone Calls With Echo Connect

  • To make a call you simply say “Alexa, call “name of the person you want to call”
  • As long as their name is in your list of contacts – Alexa will make the call

How To Set Up Echo Connect For Alexa

  • Purchase the Echo Connect device
  • Open the Alexa app on your phone
  • Tap on the Communication icon at the bottom of the screen
  • Follow the instructions to get started on setting up contacts and verifying your phone information
  • Place the Echo Connect device in a place where it’s close to a phone jack, your Wi-Fi router and a power outlet
  • Plug the Echo Connect into the power outlet
  • Connect the Echo Connect to the phone jack (or your Wi-Fi router if you’re using a digital phone service)
  • Complete setting up the device in the Alexa App on your phone
  • Tap on the hamburger menu in the top left corner (the 3 short horizontal lines)
  • Tap on Add Device or Alexa Devices
  • Then follow the instructions to add the Echo Connect device

How To Use Alexa To Make Phone Calls From Your Contact List

The ability to call someone from your contact list through an Alexa device is awesome – in my opinion.  I use it often, it basically turns my Alexa into a speaker phone which allows me to speak to someone while I’m cooking or folding laundry or doing some other small task.

How To Set Up Your Contact List On Alexa

  • When you initially put the Alexa app on your phone it should automatically pick up your contact list that is on your phone.
  • You can also add contacts individually to your app by…
  • Opening your Alexa app and tapping on the Communication Icon at the bottom of the screen
  • Then tap on the Contact Icon at the top right of the screen (looks like a silhouette of a person)
  • Then tap on the 3 vertical dots at the top right of the screen
  • Tap on Add Contact
  • Fill out the information to add your new contact

Calendar Events

Using Alexa to keep important dates like appointments and birthdays on a calendar  is extremely easy and can be done via any of the devices.  But I will say that using the Echo Show (which displays the calendar) may be easier for older adults.

How To Use The Calendar On Alexa

Getting your calendar read to you is as easy as saying “Alexa, what’s on my calendar?” From there, you can also delete, reschedule or add to your calendar.

You can also invite someone who is in your contact list to an event by saying “Alexa, invite (first and last name) to (name of event) today at 4pm (or whatever date and time).”  She may respond with “What’s the name of the event?” – after you give her your answer she will tell you that she has scheduled the event and will be sending an email to that person.  She will repeat the email address and ask if that’s okay.  (Pretty cool, right?)

How To Set Up Your Calendar On Alexa

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone
  • Tap on the hamburger menu in the top left corner (the 3 short horizontal lines)
  • In the dropdown box tap on “Settings”
  • Scroll down a bit and tap on “Calendar & Email”
  • Tap on “Add A Calendar” – you will have the option to add your calendar from Google, Microsoft, Apple or Microsoft Exchange
  • Follow the instructions to personalize what you would like Alexa to do with your calendar

Reminders And Notifications

There are 3 ways that you can use Alexa to remind you of events and/or tasks.

  1. You can set them up on your calendar and then choose the option in the Alexa app to have those calendar events automatically read out to you at the time of the event.  I have to admit – I have tried doing this but I haven’t been able to get this to work.
  2. You can set up Reminders on your Alexa device
  3. You can set up Reminders through the Alexa app on your phone

How To Set Up Reminders And Notifications On Alexa

  • When you set up your calendar you can choose the option to have it give you notifications automatically.
  • OR you simply set up Reminders directly on your Alexa device by saying something like “Alexa, remind me to take my heart medicine at 3 pm every day.”
  • OR you can set this skill up from the Alexa app on your phone
    • Open the Alexa app on your phone
    • Tap on the hamburger menu in the top left corner (the 3 short horizontal lines)
    • In the dropdown box tap on “Reminders & Alarms”
    • You’ll then see the option to choose from setting up an Alarm, a Reminder and/or Timers
    • Tap on Reminders
    • You’ll then have the option to Add Reminder
    • Once you tap on the plus sign to add your reminder follow the prompts for choosing your time, etc.
  • You can also ask “Alexa, what are my reminders?” to get a list of the ones that you have already set up.

Echo Show Drop In  Feature

The Echo Show is Amazon’s latest product to the Alexa line.  Basically, it’s Alexa with a screen.

This device has a great skill that I believe is most useful for dementia patients and their caregivers and it’s called the Drop In feature.

This is how it works:

  • One Echo Show device is connected (virtually) to another Echo Show device.
  • Each Echo Show device gives permission to “drop in”
  • So, Echo device #1 calls to “drop in” on Echo device #2
  • The #2 Echo show device then opens up allowing the viewer with the #1 Echo show device to look in on that person / place.
  • It’s a great way to monitor someone by their caregiver from afar

Just follow these instructions below to set up this skill.

  • Open the Alexa app on your phone
  • Tap on the hamburger menu in the top left corner (the 3 short horizontal lines)
  • In the dropdown box tap on “Skills & Games”
  • Tap on the magnifying glass on the top right of the screen
  • Type in “calling and messaging” to search for this skill
  • Tap on the Enable Skill button
  • You will be asked to agree to their terms of service and to allow this program to access your contact list
  • You then need to tap on the Communication Icon at the bottom of the Alexa app on your phone
  • You then need to confirm your name, enable access to your contact list that is on your phone, verify your phone number via a text and allow Alexa to use your microphone and camera (if you haven’t already done that)
  • Now tap on the profile icon at the top right of your Alexa app on your phone
  • Your name should pop up with “My Profile & Settings” below it.  Tap on your name.
  • Enable the Allow Drop In option
  • Now you are set up to receive Drop Ins.  To drop in on other Alexa devices, then they need to allow permissions just as you did for your.

In Conclusion

All in all, the ability for someone with dementia to use an Alexa product will depend on that person and the severity of their dementia.  Of course, if that senior person was having problems using tech gadgets prior to the onset of dementia, it seems to me that the chances of them learning to use Alexa or any other voice activated device now would be much more difficult so please take that into consideration.

 

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