By Brett Peruzzi, Managing Editor
REGION – Alexa, the voice-activated digital assistant from Amazon that is present already in so many homes, is now the latest tool that could help the elderly to continue to live an independent life.
The company recently announced Alexa Together. Amazon described it as “a new service designed to help aging customers feel more comfortable and confident living independently and give their family peace of mind.”
The key to the new service is what Amazon calls Alexa Together, an upgrade to its existing Care Hub service which creates a connection between two Alexa accounts. The elder customer needs an Amazon Echo or other type of Alexa-enabled smart speaker. The friend or family member providing support just needs the Alexa app on their smart phone. Some of the first users of the service have been Amazon employees who use Alexa Together to stay connected with aging parents. The Alexa app can also be used by the support person to place calls or send messages to the elder customer.
Hands-free emergency assistance
Alexa Together provides the elder customer with round-the-clock, hands-free access to an emergency help line. All they have to do is say, “Alexa, call for help,” to be connected to a live agent who can contact police, the fire department, or an ambulance. This eliminates the need to be able to reach a phone or wear a medical alert device. Alexa will also notify the friend or family member providing support.
Falls detected automatically
Alexa Together also works in conjunction with a device from another technology provider that can detect when an elder customer has fallen, using a wall-mounted sensor. Alexa will then ask if emergency assistance should be called, and their support person notified. Another option is a traditional wearable device that will allow Alexa to be prompted to ask if emergency assistance is needed when the customer presses a button. Amazon also expects to add support for additional devices over time.
Notifications and remote assistance
Alexa Together can be set up to provide the elder customer’s support person with daily notifications when the elder has their first interaction with Alexa, or if there has been no interaction by a certain time. This provides reassurance to the support person that the elder is up and going about their daily routine. And the elder customer is confident that their support person knows they are okay without the need for a text or phone call. The service also has a remote assist feature that the elder customer can enable. This allows their support person to set up Alexa features and manage other settings remotely from their smart phone. This can be useful for things like setting reminders or timers or adding items to a shopping list. This can also be used for homes that have additional items connected to Alexa, such as lights or other devices that use a “smart” plug that can turn it off and on with voice commands. It can lessen the burden on an elder who may not have the interest or ability to learn how to use some of Alexa’s features.
Amazon stresses that Alexa Together comes with multiple levels of privacy protection so the elder customer doesn’t feel intruded upon too much by their support person. In addition to having to approve access for their support person to be able to use the remote assist feature, the notification feature only allows the support person to see that there was an interaction with Alexa, but not the type of interaction. For example, it would indicate Alexa was being used for entertainment, but not identify the radio station, song, or audio book specifically.
So how much does it cost?
Amazon prices Alexa Together at $19.99 per month or $199 per year. Customers can sign up for a free six-month trial. Amazon customers who already subscribe to the Care Hub service will receive a free year of Alexa Together until December 7, 2022. Either the person providing or receiving support can start the sign-up process. But both customers will need to complete the process to create the relationship, to ensure they are in agreement to use the service.