Practical Suggestions to Help Loved Ones Age in Place Safely
Practical Suggestions to Help Loved Ones Age in Place Safely

Using Amazon Echo’s “Drop In” and “Reminders” Features to Help Aged Loved Ones

I hate to admit it, but one of the funniest SNL sketches I’ve ever seen was the Amazon Echo Silver ad spoof. This of course made me think twice before purchasing the Amazon Echo Dot in order to help me care for Grandma who’s 87 and still living at home. But so many sites recommend using the Echo or Echo Dot’s versatile features to help aged loved ones within the home. Could the hype be true?

Well I recently decided to try it out. I emotionally prepared myself by assuming it would be an unmitigated disaster. My grandmother is not a friend to technology, but rather, more of an archenemy to it (think Thanos, Lex Luther, The Joker, Apocalypse, etc.)

Introducing the Echo Dot to the Home

I wanted to make the addition of the Echo Dot to her home as innocuous as possible.  I picked colors that fit in to the décor of the room, or as close as I possibly could. I decided on the Amazon Echo Dot vs the Echo since it’s smaller and has actual volume up/down buttons. The volume is plenty loud enough for small to medium sized rooms unless your aged loved ones’ Tom Jones playlist needs some heavy base. In that case go with the full size Amazon Echo.

I purchased 3 Amazon Echo Dots. One for grandmas room. One for the room I stay in when I visit, and one for the family room. I just had a great experience with them I’d like to share.

My Recent Experience

My grandmother has moderate hearing loss for her age. This year we got her hearing aids through Costco. She’s willing to wear them when I am at home with her. But I discovered that when she is at home alone, she often doesn’t wear them. I tried to convince her of the importance of wearing them all the time, but she’s… not a friend of technology.

I just the other day tried to reach her by phone. I called three times. Later another relative tried reaching her unsuccessfully and shot me a message asking if everything was ok. When your 87 year old grandmother doesn’t pick up after the third phone call and voice message you cannot help but imagine the worst. So I decided after the third call to use the Dot’s “Drop In” feature. Using the Alexa App on my phone, I’ve labeled the Amazon Echo Dot in my Grandmother’s bedroom “Grandma’s room”. From the App, I select “Communication”, then “Drop In”,  then select the target room’s Dot. I can then essentially use the Dot like an intercom. We can speak in real time as we would on a phone call, and she can reply if she’s in earshot of the device. It worked perfectly. Grandma was at her bedroom desk reading. We had a nice clear chat for a few moments and then I said I’d check on her later. 

The Alexa app
Click on communication at the bottom of the screen
Select the room!

It was great since grandma simply had to respond. No buttons, no messages, no need to interact the device other than responding to my voice.

Since I’ve boosted the volume of the Dot in my grandmothers room, she can hear me with or without hearing aids. She can even hear me if she’s in her adjacent bathroom. The Amazon Echo Dot’s microphone is also very sensitive, so that if she had fallen or was stuck in her room, she’d be able to speak with me easily.

Tips For Using Your Echo Device

  • Make sure the volume is at a sufficient level for your loved one to hear clearly
  • Change the wake up word/name from “Alexa” to “Computer” if needed
  • Slow down Alexa’s voice speed if needed
  • Use the Alexa App to create reminders

I originally planned on just using the intercom within the home since I didn’t want to constantly go knocking on her bedroom or bathroom door to protect her privacy. But this drop in feature can work no matter where I am, as long as I have an internet connection. If she’s not in her bedroom, I just drop in on another room until she answers.

The Reminders Feature

The other feature seems obvious, but has been very useful. You can use Amazon Dot to set daily, weekly, monthly, etc reminders. My grandmother recently started taking a medication in the evening time. For years she has only taken medicine or vitamins each day in the morning. This routine is set in stone and she never forgets it. However, adding the evening time medication to her daily routine was difficult to remember, even when I’m there with her in person. So I set a reminder: “Grandma, did you take your evening pill?” Every evening at 8:00PM, a soft alarm chimes, and Alexa announces: “Grandma, did you take your evening pill?”. Grandma then gets up and goes to look for her pill box. It has worked very well. It also saves me having to tell her when I’m home. I’m sure it can be irritating to constantly have a family member remind you of things you’ve forgotten.

One small issue we had was that Alexa’s voice speaks a little too quickly for my grandmother to understand. Fortunately you can ask Alexa to speak a little more slowly. Alexa will then speak at that slower pace for all responses unless you instruct it otherwise.

As a side note, if your aged loved one wants to use Alexa’s voice response features, you may want to change the “wake up” name/word from “Alexa” to simply “Computer”. Yes, this will make you feel like you’re on the SNG Enterprise, but it’s easier for some seniors to remember the word “Computer” than the name Alexa. 

Of course, we cant simply automate care. There is no device that we can purchase that will completely handle the responsibilities of care giving.  But some devices and technology are enabling us to assist and at least connect with loved ones more easily. Even those loved ones who consider technology their nemesis : )

Have you found other practical uses for Amazon’s Echo or Dot? I’d love to hear what you’ve discovered.

Hi, my name is Patrick Baker. This site is set up to provide suggestions and guidance for assisting senior citizens remain independent and at home for as long as possible. This can be accomplished through IADL care, which I've been researching in order to help my own grandmother remain independent and safe while aging in place. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or suggestions.

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