Listening to music and radio can brighten someone’s day and there are many options plus voice assistants are everywhere now, as we usually carry them in our pockets in the form of our smartphones. The usual suspects respond to “Alexa”, “Siri” and “Hey Google”, so how about using them with Alzheimer’s patients for entertainment and more functional things? Before you do a few things to consider:
- Alzheimer’s patients have a very hard time learning new things so if this was not introduced early enough it may not be useful. Get a basic speaker like an Amazon Echo Dot should nothing be available and try it. Nothing fancy, we just want basic capabilities to see if this is worth it, and odds are it can be re-used somewhere else.
- Language may be a challenge based on where you live, depending if the assistant will recognize it. Think accents, too, you may need to train the assistant.
- This is space-age stuff for the elderly, they may be startled. I installed an Amazon Fire Stick 4K one day at a friend’s house who is retired and when I asked the new thingamabob to play music by The Beatles he fell out of his shoes when the music started. He called his wife so she experiences it too. Good times though!
- Coverage may be something to think about, if someone asks the assistant something there is an expectation that it will work throughout the property.
- Control through voice may be out of their reach so keep on reading I have some suggestions
Now should this work for your scenario. let’s look at gear options for each of the most commonly used assistants:
- Alexa: you can use Amazon’s Echo Dot series, the Echo Studio, the Echo Show series, a smartphone or tablet with Alexa as it’s voice assistant and a device I like for it’s price point: the Echo Flex. Third party products also can be used, like the Sonos One, Move, Beam and Roam smart speakers, some soundbars like the Yamaha YAS-209 and some portable Bluetooth speakers like the JBL Flip 4. There are tons of 3rd party options out there but do read reviews before buying to make sure you’re getting what you need.
- Automate your Life has a guide on Alexa commands for seniors ($2), this might be of help!
- Google: like with Amazon, Google has its own product line under their Nest brand, and like with Alexa, 3rd party options are there (and usually the same so I won’t bore you by repeating the same information). Plenty of choices! Plus in my region I noticed they go on sale during the main shopping seasons.
- Siri: the Apple HomePod is the product of choice, as to be expected with Apple. But do not despair, there is a list on Apple’s website you can start from for 3rd party products and Apple in 2021 announced 3rd party support for Siri. Not because you can use Airplay means Siri is built-in so keep your eyes open when researching.
When you go ahead, keep things simple and keep things basic, like with an Echo Show you could have a command “Call Susan” or when the mood kicks in have a “play my jazz playlist” command handy.
Head’s up: voice assistants are far from perfect and it’s recommended you train the voice assistant to get the best results. To train yours just follow the instructions for Google, Alexa & Siri for HomePods. If your ask for something and get something else or nothing, don’t be surprised as many factors can affect how the voice assistant interprets what it heads including ambient noise, distance, accent, etc. Not sure which to use? Two YouTubers I recommend do “voice battles” and you can check out their findings here for Mrwhosetheboss and here for Marques Brownlee.
As you noticed above, smart speakers can be used for giving commands and heck, they can receive them too!
You can use these speakers to schedule actions like medication reminders with your voice “Mom it’s 5PM time to take your yellow pill” so whatever may be suitable in your context. Yes, you can think beyond entertainment! Another one could be “if front door contact sensor opens and it’s below X degrees outside play message “‘Mom don’t forget to put on a coat it’s cold today”. You get the idea now go crazy and simplify everybody’s life! Think about schedules to have “noise” in the house to alleviate loneliness, like turn on radio at a certain time, or with motion sensors.
As for music, all these speakers can integrate with your/their favorite streaming app (Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, etc.) and radio station app like iHeart and TuneIn, plus podcast apps if your music service does not have podcasts. I personally never tried but odds are you can auto-tune a radio station at a certain day and time for specific live content. It’s also a nice touch to make some playlists and printing the list said playlists, it eliminates the use of physical devices which is problematic for some folks out there.
For those who are not at ease with voice command and smart speakers there are options to be considered, namely radios and MP3 players, here are some I found out there:
- the iGuerburn seniors music player, which handles MP3 music with basic controls, add playlists or audio books and you’re all set. Saw it on Amazon, too, if that helps. You can also pair it with a remote.
- The Relish Dementia FM & digital player, it seems like a clever device and I love the 4 programmable buttons on top.
- The SMPL Touch Player, load up an USB drive with MP3s or play the radio, with a “modern retro” look.
With these devices, or “old school” analog devices like an AM/FM “dumb” radio you can operate them remotely with a smart plug for on/off functions and while at it, schedules! And these smart plugs can be used with voice commands, too, we’ve gone full circle here!
Time to get creative and remember, newness is not always better.