My Dad won’t stop talking to Alexa

Mark Spowart
Jan 22 · 5 min read

When home assistants first came out, I thought they were a pretty neat little device.

A photo of an Amazon Echo, the smart home device that runs the Alexa app. Photo by Nicolas J Leclercq on Unsplash

In my mind, this is where computer technology was supposed to go. I have a question, I simply ask the device in the room. It was very Star Trek, and I was cool with that. What really surprised me was how much they could help seniors who find themselves on their own a lot of the time, like my dad.

At 86 years of age, my dad has lived an interesting life.

He spent his youth racing around the north of England with his cycling club. Was stationed in Egypt during his time with the RAF (Royal Air Force), and in the mid 60s uprooted his family — me included — and emigrated to Canada.

He was alive during World War Two, he watched Neil Armstrong take his first steps on the moon, and watched an African American take a seat in the Oval Office.

His generation has witnessed some amazing technological advancements. When my dad was a child news was heard on the radio, not watched on TV or read online. Phone’s were in the home only, and used for voice conversations, not text. A main frame computer took up a room and were only used by companies. Today in my house we have one desktop, three laptops, three iPads, two Chrome-books and we each have our own smart-phone.

While he hasn’t avoided it, my dad hasn’t fully adopted everything technology offers him. He was an avid reader, ever reminding me of the education that comes from reading. Given this, I thought an iPad where he can read and connect into the web would have been a great piece of technology for him, but no. I don’t think he watched enough Star Trek.

The Alexa however, has been a bit of a game changer for him. It took me a while to understand why, but now I have a pretty good idea why.

I imagine like many other seniors, my dad is on a number of medications he takes at different times during the day. Again like many others, his memory is not what it used to be. In all fairness, if I had to take that many pills each day, I am sure I would find it equally as challenging.

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Enter Alexa.

If you’re not familiar with these devices, they are a voice activated connection to the internet. Some models are speaker only, some also have a screen, which ups the cool factor in my mind.

In a word, they are pretty neat.

You want to know the weather, ask Alexa. Want to know who won the game last night, ask Alexa. Want to listen to music, news, podcasts or just about any other form of entertainment, ask Alexa. Of course Google has the same type of device, and long before we had these in our home, Siri lived inside our smart phones.

Use smart technology in your home and you can adjust the temperature in your house, turn lights on or off and even run the vacuum.

Each of my kids have one in their bedrooms. I have one, and would like to get a few more to extend that Star Trek connectivity to all corners of our home.

For seniors or others with disabilities, these devices are much more than a source of entertainment. They provide a way to connect with others and when needed send an urgent message for help.

Using the “Ask My Buddy-Personal Alert Network” Alexa can send a notification that you need assistance. It is important to note, this system does not work with 911 emergency calls. In the case of an emergency, 911 should always be called first.

The “Check-In” feature of this option is a quick and easy way to notify other family members that you are ok. Whether you are home from a walk, just waking up for the day, or completed an appointment you can let loved ones know they do not need to worry.

And this is just the beginning.

In November 2019 Amazon announced Alexa can now remind individuals when to take medications. More than just a calendar reminder, Amazon partnered with Giant Eagle, a regional pharmacy with 200 stores located in eastern United States.

A spokes person from Giant Eagle said, “anyone with an active prescription from Giant Eagle can access the reminder system and alerts are automatically created to match the doctors instructions for taking the the medication.”

Seeing the potential, Amazon has a dedicated “Health and Wellness” division, charged with tapping into the $3.5trillion health care sector. The teams main goal is to make the Alexa more useful in the health care sector, while still remaining compliant when it comes to privacy and data protection.

It is believed the team is working on providing services to those affected with diabetes. Other segments include care for mothers, infants and seniors.

There is no doubt these little devices will soon be as common as our smart phones, if they haven’t already.

The negative health affects of being shut-in are real. And with an ever growing elderly segment of our population finding a way to remain connected is a good thing.

In no way am I suggesting these devices replace or relinquish the need for relationships. Having and nurturing those connections is vital for all of us. In some cases home assistants can make it a little easier.

As I mentioned off the top, my family is from England. My dad still has friends and family there. Using the Echo’s “Alexa to Alexa Calling” my dad is able to connect with anyone who also has an Echo or the Alexa app. If they both parties have an “Alexa Show” — the model with the video screen, you can make it a video call and bridge those miles apart even more.

Yes, pretty much all of these tasks can be completed on a cell phone, and some of them on a land-line.

But I think the magic of Alexa and other home assistants, is for many seniors, it is another voice in an otherwise silent room.

Mark is a photojournalist and writer with a strong wanderlust affliction. He lives in London, Canada with his partner, their children, two dogs and an Airstream.

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I cut my teeth in the world of photojournalism, capturing daily life in a way we can all relate. Writing was a natural progression. Today it is what drives me.

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