There are many innovations and assistive technologies available now that can ease caregiver responsibilities and promote greater independence and a quality of life for the person affected by Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
Affected individuals have great difficulty with communication, which is very challenging as the disease progresses. Assistive technology devices such as the Amazon's Alexa or the Google Assistant, used through Amazon's Echo or Google's Home Mini, for instance, can be useful tools to help manage these changes in language and understanding.
Amazon's Echo is a compact, hands-free, voice-activated technology device that is similar to Siri on the iPhone except that the device “understands” better and is more useful. For instance, individuals with Alzheimer’s or dementia constantly repeat questions, oftentimes causing frustration for caregivers. Alexa is available to answer questions, give information about news and weather, and even plays specifically requested music. This type of “personal assistant” can give caregivers a much-needed break. And, yes, some may argue the device cannot replace human touch and real conversation, but the intelligent voice controls can significantly help those with cognitive decline.
For affected individuals, Alexa can become a constant and helpful companion and can perform a variety of tasks. It can read audiobooks, tell fun jokes, research information and give weather forecasts for the day. The caregiver can set reminders and alarms for the affected individual to eat, take a bath, take medication or when to get ready for appointments.
Rick Phelps, the founder of Memory People, a private Facebook community, is an advocate for dementia awareness. Diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010, Phelps discovered and purchased the Amazon Echo in February 2016. He says the device "has afforded me something that I have lost: Memory. I can ask Alexa anything and I get the answer instantly. And I can ask it what day it is 20 times a day and I will still get the same correct answer. And since I can no longer read, having books read to me by Alexa is worth its weight in gold to me.”
The Amazon Echo Dot and Google Home Mini average about $50 each and only need a wireless connection to operate. A computer or smartphone is used for setup, and it works with just a Wi-Fi connection and needs to be plugged in for power. Both devices have extended possibilities for connecting to smart home devices to control lights, switches and thermostats, which are added amenities.
Both devices can promote independence and autonomy, manage safety risks, reduce stress and enhance quality of life for the caregiver and affected individual alike. As technology advances and more devices of this nature are produced, caregivers should research the particulars of each device to determine which works better for them in terms of preference, usage and third-party support.