How Smart Speakers Can Benefit Health and Social Care
According to The King’s Fund, a prominent think tank of the health care sector, the UK’s welfare system is not looking in good shape and is heading towards a significant crisis. With the current economic climate and no foreseeable signs of a significant increase in Government expenditure, we could see a staggering funding gap of £2.5 billion by the year 2020.
Even though the demand for health and social care is high, we can’t deny the mounting pressure this sector faces. However, we have seen a number of local authorities take some form of innovative action to help improve the quality of life for senior citizens in care.
With one notable initiative involving the use of smart speaker technology. In Hampshire, local authorities are trialling custom-made Alexa Skills, a voice-activation application, similar to smartphone apps but for voice, on Amazon Echo devices. Over 50 elderly adults have received such devices at the end of 2017.
Can Smart Speakers Improve the Quality of Life for the Elderly?
There’s no denying the popularity of smart speakers. Amazon has reportedly sold over 50 Echo devices worldwide as of Aug 2018. But the question we want to know the answer to is can these speakers improve the lives of the elderly?
Well, here are reasons why it can:
Smart Speakers Are Easily Accessible
The nature of voice-activated speakers means they are easily accessible and easy-to-use. Just by saying the word “Alexa” within a reasonable distance from the device will initiate a response where you pose a question, contact a loved one or ask for assistance.
As a hypothetical example, if an elderly experiences difficulty in getting up or they have had a fall, if they are able to activate the device, they will be able to alert the authorities.
Smart Speakers Can Provide Companionship
From a social perspective, smart speakers provide the interactive elements of human companionship. Though this might seem odd at first, considering that The Guardian reported nearly three-quarters of senior citizens feel lonely, and more than half suffer in silence, smart speakers can really help.
Smart speakers offer a unique communicative style and can also come with a number of pre-loaded games, jokes and trivia, which add comfort over time.
Smart Speakers Can Help Create a Routine and Foster Independence
Without any sort of purpose or routine, it can hinder the health, independence and mobility of the older individual. A bored mind can lead to frustration, loneliness and depression.
With a smart speaker, you can introduce order by encouraging the user to complete a wide range of task on their own. From writing down a shopping list to attaining public transport information, the on-demand service provided by Alexa can enhance the quality of life.
Smart speakers can also switch off lights, making it easier for the elderly to become independent.
The Concerns of Using Smart Speakers in Health and Social Care
As with everything, every positive will have a negative. Here are some concerns:
Some Elderly People Are Not Comfortable in Using Technology
Despite being voice-activated, some elderly people will not feel comfortable using technology. However, on spending time understanding the fundamentals, the elderly can learn to how to use smart speakers and familiarise with the basic commands.
In some cases, you may have to use more encouragement, but if the elderly person refuses, then they shouldn’t be forced into using the device.
Smart Speakers Could Reduce Real Human Contact
This concern reminds me of the scene in i-Robot where Will Smith’s character discovered his mother/grandmother was using a robot to help out with the day-to-day activities.
While smart speakers can provide interaction, it will never replace human interaction. After all, we are biologically wired to have human connection, without it leads to loneliness and depression, and there are several studies that support this.
Thanks for reading, what are your thoughts on this topic? Please let us know in the comments section below.