How Alexa & Smart Speakers Help You Live Independently
How Alexa & Smart Speakers Help You Live Independently
31 January 2022

12 Ways You Can Use Alexa to Age in Place

Helping loved ones stay in their home as they grow older can prove difficult, as we never know what challenges lie ahead. However, an AARP survey suggests that 77% of adults over 50 wish to stay in their homes long-term — this is known as “aging in place.” With nearly 3/4 of aging adults remaining at home during their golden years, many will require assistance in areas such as household chores, getting around at home and in town, and personal safety. This is where a smart speaker like Amazon’s Echo can help. Aging in place technology can provide seniors with a wide array of assistance, from reading the news to controlling smart devices. 

Amazon Echo vs. Google Home

When you start asking friends and family about the best smart devices for seniors living alone, you will hear about Amazon Echo and Google Nest (formerly known as Google Home). Both are voice-activated smart speakers, and both can perform many of the same skills. However, your priorities, the services you subscribe to, and what devices you want to control will ultimately help you decide whether Echo or Nest is best for your needs. Because Amazon Echo supports more services than its competitor, our deep-dive will focus on the Echo smart speaker/assistant. 

So, what’s the difference between Amazon Alexa and Amazon Echo? Alexa is the voice, Echo is the hardware. 

Alexa Skills vs. Routines

Before you ask Alexa to perform any of the ever-increasing skills and routines in her repertoire, you need to know how skills and routines differ. Think of Alexa skills as apps that can perform everyday tasks. On the other hand, routines combine various actions that allow you to complete multiple tasks using a single command. Amazon featured routines in the Alexa app make “her” even more helpful.

All you have to do is enable the routine as is, edit its actions, name, and time or add on any necessary smart device. If you want a specific routine that’s not featured, you can create your own. However, because the options for building a routine are endless, the required steps may be equally exhausting. For this reason, we will digress and focus on skills, which take only a quick setup to get going. 

If you’re setting up the Echo or Google Home device to help someone who is at risk for falls or other emergencies, you might want to learn about the Alexa Care Hub, which is now known as Alexa Together. It’s a monthly subscription plan (that usually offers several months to try it for free), designed specifically for families that are caring for elderly or home-bound members.

How Alexa Can Help Seniors

Echo Plus, Heather Gray, Kitchen

Under each Alexa skill category, you will find a host of specific capabilities, many of which may prove beneficial for those who wish to age in place. Although there are literally thousands and thousands of Amazon smart speaker skills, here are several you may find helpful for aiding the elderly and the details on how to enable or set up each one.

1. Set Up a Calendar With Alexa 

A quick “Alexa, what’s on my calendar?” and she’ll read your upcoming events. This command will also allow you to reschedule, add or delete something to your calendar. To set it up, open the Alexa app on your phone and tap the hamburger menu in the bottom-right corner (three short horizontal lines). Select Settings > Calendar & Email > Add Calendar. Here you’ll have the option to add an existing calendar from Microsoft, Microsoft Exchange, Google, or Apple. Finish personalizing your calendar.

2. Medication Reminders and Appointment Notifications

Alexa offers a few ways to set up reminders and notifications for things like medications and appointments. You can add them to your calendar, so Alexa can automatically read them to you at the time of the event. You can set up reminders using an Alexa-enabled device by saying something like “Alexa, remind me to take my vitamins at 8 a.m. every day.” To set up this skill from the Alexa app, open the app, tap the hamburger menu, select Reminders & Alarms > Reminders > Add Reminder (plus sign). Choose a time, enter details, etc.

3. Make Phone Calls Through Alexa

To make a phone call to a landline or mobile phone, you’ll need to add contacts to Alexa. Open the Alexa app. Select Communicate icon >Contact (top-right corner) > three-dot menu (top-right corner) > Add Contact. Fill in the information and tap Save. Once contact is added, just say “Alexa, call [name of contact]”. If that person has more than one number for work or home, you must state so; for example “Alexa, call [contact name] (then a work or on mobile).” For those not on your list say, “Alexa, [call number].

4. Read News, Traffic Updates on Your Echo

Alexa will read a Flash Briefing report for the latest news when you ask “Alexa, what’s the news today?” You can also request updates by saying “Alexa” along with any of the following:

  • What’s in the news from (include whatever news station)?
  • What’s the traffic like right now?

To set up your news station, open the Alexa app and tap the hamburger menu. Select Settings from the dropdown menu, then My News Channel. Select your primary station.

5. Ask Alexa to Check the Weather

To check the local weather, Alexa has a built-in weather skill. Simply ask, “Alexa, what’s the weather today?” For more in-depth weather information, open the Alexa app and tap the hamburger menu. Click Skills & Games and search for weather. Select which skill you want to add. Each skill displays the command you need to provide for Alexa to respond appropriately.

6. Use Your Smart Speaker to Call for an Uber or Lyft

Calling for an Uber or Lyft is easy to accomplish with Alexa for seniors who don’t drive. To set up, open the Alexa app and tap the hamburger menu. Search Uber or Lyft and tap on which you wish to use. Tap Launch to link your Uber or Lyft account with Alexa. Now when you need a ride, simply ask, “Alexa, ask Uber to request a ride.” To get updates, “Alexa, ask Uber where’s my ride?” and to cancel “Alexa, ask Uber to cancel my ride.” Learn more about how to set up Uber and how to set up Lyft.

7. Play Movies, Audiobooks, and Music With Alexa

To play a movie or listen to a book, simply say, “Alexa, play [name of the movie or book].” Some selections are free, while others require purchases. Of course, you can listen to audiobooks on any Alexa-enabled device, but you’ll need an Echo Show to watch a movie. For music, ask “Alexa play [name of specific radio station, bands, singers, genres].” 

8. Guard Your Home While Away

Alexa can send a smart alert to your phone if it detects smoke alarms, carbon monoxide alarms going off, or glass breaking. To set up this skill, open the Alexa app, tap the hamburger menu > Settings. Scroll down and tap Guard > Set Up Sound Detection, enable Smoke & CO Alarm Sounds (if you have them), and Glass Break > Confirm.

9. Call 911

Unfortunately, due to regulatory compliance, you can’t call 911 directly from Alexa. However, you can contact emergency services. While not a substitute for emergency response services or 911, adding an emergency contact to your contact list (see #3 above) in the Alexa app can ensure the smart assistant will call and message your emergency contacts if anyone in the household asks Alexa to call for help. 

10. Shop for Groceries, Get Recipes, or Order Food

In the Alexa app, under the Food and Drink Category, you can add grocery shopping at Whole Foods, create grocery lists with OurGroceries (for other grocery chains), find recipes with Allrecipes, and order food for delivery or takeout from restaurants like Dominos and Fazoli’s Italian.

11. Control Smart Home Devices

Connecting an Alexa-enabled device with other smart home devices can make a senior’s life easier. Even if your loved one is unable to use any of the devices, you can control them with Alexa from wherever. While the number of smart devices continues to grow, here are a few you may want for those who wish to age in place:

  • Thermostat
  • Light switches
  • TV
  • Door locks
  • Automated window blinds
  • Home security system

12. Watch Over a Loved One From Anywhere

Whether you’re nearby or across the globe, you can check in on your aging loved ones a couple of ways without having to “call” them. Connect to supported Alexa-enabled devices using Amazon’s Drop-In feature. Once connected, you view (if the Echo devices have screens) and hear what’s going on in the surrounding area, and hold a two-way conversation if you so wish.

Here’s how: Open the Alexa app and tap Devices. Select the device you want to connect to and tap Settings in the upper-right corner. Under Communications, enable the feature. When you’re ready to drop in, go to your Alexa app and select Communicate, tap Drop-In, then choose the device you would like to connect with.  You can also drop in using your voice and smart speaker. Simply ask Alexa to “Drop-In on [whatever device name or contact name].” Another option to help you care for your aging loved ones is Amazon’s subscription service Alexa Together which offers features like fall detection response, remote assist, 24/7 urgent response, and more.