The Best Ways To Use Alexa For The Elderly (Updated 2021)

Elderly using technology in care home

Thanks to technology, there are some wonderfully innovative products for elderly parents that can help them stay safe and reassure you at the same time. Here, we’re looking at Amazon Alexa and the Echo Show which we believe to be the best gadget for seniors on the market. Read on for the seven best ways to use Alexa for the elderly.

At ElWell, we only like to recommend products that we know are tried and tested. Nancy, our founder and lead physiotherapist, uses her Alexa to easily video call her 94 year old grandpa – her mum does this regularly to make sure that he is safe and well, and to have an easy conversation with him. So we thought it only best that we shared the information with you!

What Is The Difference Between Alexa And Echo?

Before we get stuck into the detail, it’s important to answer this question as it can be confusing for people who don’t use these smart home devices.

Essentially, Alexa is the name of the virtual assistant that you can ask questions to (such as “Alexa, what date is it today?”). You can only use Alexa if you have an Amazon Echo product.

There are a few varieties of Echo available but in our opinion, the best option is the Echo Show as it comes with a screen and allows Alexa video calling where you easily ‘drop in’ and see your parent. We’ll go into more detail on this below.

Want more useful products to make life easier for your parents? Read our article on the best gadgets that will also give you peace of mind.

What Is Alexa Drop In?

If you’ve ever worried about your parents and wanted to easily check up on them, then Alexa drop in is for you. Similar to a home intercom system, the ‘drop in’ feature lets you instantly connect and communicate over video call with someone else, as long as they have an Echo Show and have initially granted permission for you to do so.

The best benefit of Alexa video calling via drop in is that your elderly parent doesn’t need to answer the call – as the name suggests, you literally drop in on them and it connects automatically!

So if they have a slight cognitive impairment meaning they get confused by the phone ringing, or have limited mobility so can’t move to the phone easily, this could be a real saviour.

It’s like an elderly monitoring system, allowing you to easily check up and have a conversation, without requiring them to do anything on their part.

How Does Alexa Drop In Work?

Whenever you ‘drop in’ on an Echo Show, its light ring will first turn green, make a pulsing sound and then connect automatically. The screen will be a frosted glass video for a few seconds before turning clear. Then, once connected you will see and hear everything within the range of the device and so will the person you are calling.

Setting Up Alexa Drop In

This is easy to do and only needs to be completed once:

  1. You both need to download the Amazon Alexa app and sign in to your Amazon account (you can of course do this for your elderly parent). From there, sign up for Alexa Calling And Messaging. Note, both you and your parent need different Amazon accounts.
  2. Open the app, and go to the Conversation screen. There you can confirm your name and enable access to your contacts (Amazon will only have access to those who have an Alexa device).
  3. Enable drop in for your parent – they will get a notification and have to accept to grant drop in permission on their end (but you can of course help them with this). 
  4. It runs off WiFi so as long as both households have this, it should work well.

Once all set up, you only have to say “Alexa, drop in on dad” and the screen will turn on in their house.

It could be a good idea to keep the Echo Show in one set place at your parents’ home (e.g. beside their chair in the living room) or you may want more than one screen for added security 24/7 (for example in the bedroom too).

At the end of the conversation just say “Alexa hang up” or press the red button on screen.

If a family member wants to have an instant conversation with your elderly parents, but doesn’t have an Echo Show then they can drop in via the Amazon App. They would just need to set it up in the same way above and make sure permission is granted. This chat would be verbal though, they wouldn’t be able to see each other.

Echo Show Adjustable Stand

An Echo Show 8 stand can make life much easier for your video calls. These affordable stands give extra height and let you tilt the screen to enhance the viewing experience – great for drop in.

Available in black or white to match the Echo Show 8 you and your parents have, the stand easily attaches and detaches to the base of the device with the help of magnets.

Reasons Why We Like Alexa Drop In Call

  1. We all know that looking after our elderly parents can be stressful, and this instant two-way intercom can give you peace of mind. Use it like an elderly monitoring system to drop in and check up that they’re OK. Especially helpful if you have an elderly parent living alone.
  2. In our experience, the quality is much better than a video call over WhatsApp or FaceTime. And you don’t have to shout ‘I can see your ear’ as they won’t move the Echo Show screen!
  3. Lockdown and isolation has meant that our lovely older parents may be feeling more lonely and disconnected with family. Drop In is a great way to bring the family easily together such as an Alexa bedtime story or for them to check in on the kids before school. These daily points of connection can improve mood and make everyone smile.
  4. The large screen makes it better for a video call than a phone, as you can see more people. Whilst only two devices can drop in on each other at once (so no larger groups), you can have more than one person at either side. 
  5. If your mum or dad have dementia, the Echo Show could help you easily connect with them and bring a smile to their face – especially important at the moment when it’s harder to see our parents. Note that it could confuse some people living with dementia, so trial it when someone is with them.
  6. A standalone screen is also great for people with arthritis and limited hand grip strength. They don’t have to hold a phone or tablet but can still communicate.
  7. As you have to give permission to receive calls from contacts, there’s no danger of your parent getting scam calls on their Echo.

Mobility can become a problem as our parents get older. Nancy our physiotherapist has written about ways to make stairs, bed and getting in and out of the bath safer for our loved ones. Hope they’re helpful.

Other Reasons Why We Love Alexa

We promised we’d talk about the best ways to use Alexa for the elderly. So far we’ve focused on drop in as we think it’s SO GREAT but there’s a lot of other benefits of Alexa to talk about.

Alexa Show And Tell

This innovative new voice command feature helps partially sighted and blind people identify common household objects that are hard to distinguish by touch.

Using their Echo Show, users can hold the product 30cm away from the screen and say “Alexa, what am I holding?” or “Alexa, what’s in my hand?”. The assistive technology will prompt the individual to turn the product round so they can give the correct answer.

This could make everyday household tasks such as putting shopping away much easier.

The Alexa ‘My Clock’ Function

People living with dementia can often get confused about what day, date or time it is. It’s possible to get dementia clocks to help with this, or if your parent has an Alexa Echo Show (with a screen), you can set up the free ‘My Clock’ skill to provide a personalised time of day greeting displayed on the screen and spoken.

Not only that, it can also be set to inform the user how much time there is left for sleeping if they wake up during the night. For example, if your parent’s alarm was set for 7am, and they woke up at 6am, Alexa would use their name and tell them (and display) the time and how long they have left to sleep.

Ring Doorbell Monitoring

We mentioned scam calls above, but Alexa can also help prevent your parents falling for doorstep scams or having to answer the door unnecessarily.

Get your parents a Ring doorbell and connect it to both your and their Alexa via the Ring app. It means you can ask Alexa who is at their door, and a video feed will automatically show. So if you’re not familiar with who’s at the door, you can tell your parents not to open it, facilitating elderly safety.

There are different types of Ring doorbell available. The Ring Doorbell Pro is hardwired and there’s also battery and solar operated versions available. We prefer the Pro as the others can take a while to connect with the screen (not ideal when someone is waiting for the door to open).

Ask My Buddy

If you’re worried about your elderly parents falling over and needing help then this nifty function on Alexa is for you. Ask My Buddy lets you allocate contacts to alert in a time of need. Set it up on your parent’s device and they can tell Alexa to alert you if needed. It’s an alternative to a separate telecare solution.

Alexa Captioning

For anyone who’s hard of hearing, you can turn on subtitles on the Echo Show to see Alexa’s responses on screen. It will also convert the audio of a video broadcast into text. And if a slower speaking rate is preferred, you can alter that too.

Elderly Home Safety

Amazingly, it can also act as a home safety product. Set up Alexa Guard to connect with your device and alert you if someone is breaking in (it listens for the sound of breaking glass) or if a smart smoke alarm or carbon monoxide alarm goes off.

Medication Reminders

This is great if your parent has a lot of medication to take, or has a mild cognitive impairment. You can set it up so Alexa reminds them to take certain medication at a certain time on a daily (or different) basis. Via the Reminders option, you can also set up other messages such as “Mum, eat your lunch it’s 12pm” or “Dad, I’ll be home soon”.

Easy to set up, just go to Menu, then Reminders & Alarms and Reminders. Hit the plus button to add one and enter what you want Alexa to say, as well as edit the frequency, devices and time.

Whilst we’re talking about medication, have you heard about PillTime? This NHS pharmacy delivers medications direct to the door, packaged in dose-specific pouches. It takes away any human error from doses and encourages your parent to take their meds.

Alexa Care Hub

Alexa home security is being taken to the next level with Care Hub. Currently only for our readers in the USA (although we’ll keep you updated if Alexa Care Hub UK rolls out), it’s a monitoring system that sends alerts to family members when their elderly relative uses their smart home device (or doesn’t use it).

Keeping Your Parents Company

Whilst tech isn’t the same as human interaction, the voice from Alexa can keep your parent company. They can ask it to play games (“Alexa, play twenty questions”), help with crosswords, tell them a joke or ask inquisitive questions like “Alexa, what’s the weather like in Sydney?” (this would be great for my parents as my brother lives there!).

Play Audiobooks On Alexa

If your parent uses a Kindle or Audible to buy books, they can ask Alexa to read it to them. They can choose when to take a break, resume or change the volume using voice commands.  Talking of volume, they can also connect the smart TV to Alexa and use it to control the sound or even turn closed captions on.

Does your parent struggle to hear the TV and turn the volume up and up? If so, check out our article on the best devices to hear the TV better. Your ears will thank us for it!

Reminders

You or your parent can set a reminder to help your parent manage independently. It can remind about an appointment, a birthday or even to put the washing on. Really helpful for people who are starting to show mild signs of dementia.

Can Alexa Be Hacked To Listen To Conversations?

We can’t write an article signing the praises of smart home devices for the elderly without looking into Alexa privacy. So, is Alexa always listening? And can Alexa be hacked to listen to conversations?

Is Alexa always listening?

In a nutshell, yes. The Echo Show (and other Amazon products that work with Alexa) are home listening devices. Alexa is waiting for its wake word (e.g. “Alexa, what time is it?”) but needs to be always on and listening so it can respond accordingly. It only starts to record when it hears this. You or your elderly parent will see when this is as the light will come on. Then, when it hears the wake word, the command is sent up to Amazon’s cloud computers where the correct response is generated.

Alexa is set up to store these conversations but you can turn this off if you’re worried about Alexa privacy. Just disable it in Settings, Accessibility, Privacy.

Can Alexa Be Hacked?

Can someone hack into your Alexa is a valid concern. As we just learnt, it stores information about the user which a hacker could potentially access. Amazon takes the safety and security of its products and consumers very seriously and is always evolving its protection capability. So in answer, whilst yes it is a very small risk, it’s highly unlikely to happen. Especially if you follow the above and turn off storage of conversations.

It’s also important to remember the benefits of Alexa when weighing this up. As we’ve shown, when it comes to Alexa and elderly parents, there are a number of reasons why this smart home device could help. It’s worth considering all of this if you’re thinking of buying one for your older parent – will Alexa help your parent and give you peace of mind?

How To Turn Alexa Off

It is possible to turn Alexa off (but remember, this means that it won’t let you then drop in, remind your parent to take medication or whatever else you have set it up to do.

Just go to Settings, Accessibility and then Tap to Alexa on or off.

What might be useful is also learning about Alexa features to turn off. There is one called Hunches – follow up questions or suggestions that Alexa asks after you interact. These can be about locking the door or suggesting a new way to use something. Whilst hunches can be useful, if your parent has mild dementia then they may be confusing.

Conclusion

When it comes to elderly home safety and communication, Amazon Alexa and the Echo Show tick all the boxes. Setting up Alexa is easy and the technology then allows your senior parents to manage independently whilst giving you peace of mind. Try it and let us know what you think.

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