The Importance of Voice Control on Aging in Place

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Thousands of Americans retire each day, and increasingly they are making the choice to stay in their own homes. Although the concept of aging in place is not new, it's becoming a feasible option for more retirees than ever before. Aging in place allows a person to live in the place of their choosing without reducing the quality of life once they reach senior age. Today, aging in place is made possible by technology advancements, such as voice control devices that support living independently at any age, income, or ability.

According to the AARP, nearly 90 percent of seniors (adults over the age of 65) want to age in place. Who wouldn't want the freedom to stay in their life-long homes? Aging in place offers many benefits, including improving life satisfaction and quality of life. This not only avoids stripping seniors of everything they know—their home, neighborhood, daily routine, etc—but also gives them the choice of their level of independence and overall lifestyle.

Aging in place is not as simple as it sounds. There are several factors, for both the seniors and their community, that must be considered before one can safely age in place. By 2030, there will be around 70 million seniors making up 20 percent of the U.S. population, according to the U.S. Census Board. If seniors are not adequately able to age in place, the U.S. will face healthcare shortages, especially in rural areas where it is harder to recruit medical professionals. Thanks to digital health trends, including telehealth, remote patient monitoring, and voice assistants, at-home care is easy, sufficient, and can reduce medical costs.

Voice assistants are a crucial tool for helping seniors live safe, independent lives. Devices such as appliances, lights, and more can incorporate voice user interfaces to make living easier, taking into consideration mobility, vision, and dexterity, and allow seniors and their family members to have peace of mind. According to a study in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, there are four major themes in the usage of voice assistants by older adults:

1. Control of the Home

Control of the home is one of the most common responses by older adult reviewers. Many users, especially those with limited mobility, use voice assistants to control smart lights, locks, thermostats, etc. Being able to control lights with a simple verbal cue can prevent trips and falls in the dark, while smart locks can give vulnerable seniors security from intruders and help them feel safer while living alone. Smart thermostats can provide comfort by allowing seniors to adjust the temperature in their homes remotely. Control of the home through voice assistants not only gives seniors the ability to complete daily tasks on their own, but also to feel more independent and less of a burden to caregivers.

2. Reminders

Voice assistants offer reliable reminders that can vary from notifying the user of the date or day of the week to medication and appointment reminders. This can significantly help seniors who suffer from memory loss avoid side effects and live carefree . While some seniors might be affected by memory challenges, Alexa never forgets!

3. Emergency Communication

Emergency communication is an important theme among the reviews from the study. Seniors can use voice assistants to contact someone for help if they are in pain or in danger. This feature can be lifesaving if a senior has a fall or needs to get to a hospital but can't physically reach a phone.

4. Entertainment and Companionship

While it's easy to see how the pure functionality of voice assistants can support aging in place, they can also provide entertainment and companionship. Voice assistants can bring a home to life by playing music or telling jokes. They also make it easy to access news reports and audiobooks to keep minds sharp. Caregivers noted the ease with which seniors could access music playlists, which can be beneficial in soothing, redirecting, or distracting individuals with more severe cognitive decline.

Voice control must be designed to include a variety of voice types. As accessible and user-friendly as voice-controlled devices are, a study by Microsoft Research shows that many do not work well for some older adults due to differences in pitch, pacing, and clarity of speech by people of very advanced ages, since they are not commonly represented in the training and evaluation of the systems. While AI technologies are trained on data sets, seniors are not usually included even though they are most likely to use voice assistants for essential services like health care. To avoid ageism in voice control, seniors should be involved in the development process, and teams should be trained to recognize and overcome forms of ageism

Voice assistants can aid individuals with declining health to safely care for themselves in the comfort of their own homes. While voice recognition is not currently catered to older voices, there are campaigns to increase the representation of the elderly in AI-based technology. Advances in artificial intelligence show great promise to fill unmet needs in the home for people of all ages and abilities.

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