Alexa – When do I take my pills?

Older people are often referred to as digital immigrants, having grown up without the degree of technological change we are seeing today.  Older people have been forced to adapt, change and learn how to live and operate in this technological revolution which can be hard at times.  However, there are massively positive implications for our ageing population on the way.

In 1999, when just 4% of the world’s population was online, Neil Gross wrote in BusinessWeek: “In the next century, planet Earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations. This skin is already being stitched together. It consists of millions of embedded electronic measuring devices: thermostats, pressure gauges, pollution detectors, cameras, microphones, glucose sensors, EKGs, electroencephalographs. These will probe and monitor cities and endangered species, the atmosphere, our ships, highways and fleets of trucks, our conversations, our bodies – even our dreams.”

Guess what? Today 49% of the world’s population is connected online and an estimated 8.4 billion connected things are in use worldwide.

At a similar time, Kevin Ashton coined the term Internet of Things, sound weird but it’s all around us, all the time.  The Internet of Things (IoT) glides under our radar most of the time.  It is the sensors, actuators and other items completing tasks behind the scenes in day-to-day operations of businesses and government, most of them assisted by artificial-intelligence-enhanced communication. It’s the cars, household appliances, phones, smart meters, health monitoring devices and personal fitness trackers and more voice activated assistants than ever before. The IoT is now moving forward with a hiss and a roar as Alexa becomes a household name.


Who is Alexa?


Alexa is the female voice of Amazon’s virtual assistant.  She will talk to you in a conversational tone, ready to help you with many things. Alexa can take down your shopping list, play your favourite music, get you the news headlines whilst reminding you to call you daughter.  Alexa can perform a variety of simple tasks, like but it can also be used to control smart-home gadgets, giving it the ability to dim the lights, lock the doors, or adjust the thermostat.  Alexa has huge implications for helping people to age in their own environment by making simple tasks easy.


Alexa – when do i take my pills?

A number of apps are being developed all over the world to help older people with the specific issues that they experience.  Take Marvee, an app named after the person it was designed to help, designed by her daughter Heidi Cuthbertson.  Marvee played tennis into her 80s, but then developed macular degeneration and became blind and frail. When the first Amazon Echo came out in 2014, Culbertson and her siblings bought their mother one.  Culbertson wanted to customise the experience for her mother and others like her so she went to work on an app that enabled people to use their voice to send messages to family members, friends and caregivers.

Through the basic Ask Marvee service, which is free, a person can send out a “Morning Beacon” every day to loved ones simply by saying, “Alexa, ask Marvee to say I’m OK.”  Anyone on the pre-selected list will receive the notification by text, email or both. A person can also, through a voice command, request social visits and retrieve news and updates sent by family members. There is a fee to expand the list of contacts to 10 people but already we can see how this will help families stay connected and increase independence for people as they age.

The range of services that are available are expanding all the time.  LifePod users will not need to “wake” LifePod with a command.  Instead the device will initiate conversations based on preset schedules. The idea is to use prompts from LifePod to help older adults follow their routines. In the morning, they could be reminded to take their medication or call a family member. In the afternoon, they might get a wellness check-in, such as a reminder to stay hydrated or get some exercise, or, if scheduled, the LifePod could play music.

“The content is tailored to the needs of each individual user to help them periodically through the day,” said Stuart Patterson,” LifePod’s CEO and co-founder.  If a person doesn’t confirm that he or she took the pills or doesn’t respond to a pre-set number of check-ins, a text is automatically sent to a caregiver or family member.

There are so many exciting applications for the IoT – would you like me to look at what else is out there?  Let me know in the comments or on facebook

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