Voice digital assistants could make life easier


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Seniors can gain control of their surroundings with digital assistants.

Voice-activated digital assistants are some of the more user-friendly devices to land in America’s living rooms during the latest technology boom.

Some, like the Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, are easier to use than cell phones.

For senior citizens, who sometimes might not remember medications, doctor appointments or who just want an answer to a simple question, digital assistants can make life easier.

Digital assistants act as robot companions, singing songs, playing trivia games and adapting to users’ requests. This can be especially comforting to seniors living alone.

The words “Hey Google, Good Morning,” can activate a series of morning tasks such as turning on lights, adjusting a thermostat and announcing reminders for the day.

“We bought Alexa for my elderly mom so she can be reminded to take her daily medications,” said Cari Johnson, a Melbourne resident. “Not only does it help with that, but she uses it to turn on the television, change the channels and listen to music. She is 87, so my husband had to help her get it set up, but she seems to be enjoying it.”

Every digital assistant has its own specialty adaptation. For example, Amazon’s Alexa can operate almost any household appliance purchased on Amazon, and at least 100 non-Amazon devices. Alexa is very syntax-specific though, which might be frustrating for some seniors. Amazon Echo and Echo Dot are more affordable robot companions, but do not have the speaker capacity of Alexa.

Google Assistant is ideal for simulating a human companion. Intelligent, personal and adaptable, Google Assistant keenly adapts to a user’s commands. Google Assistant can be used with any type of cell phone, from androids to iPhone.

However, it doesn’t connect as well as Alexa with a wide range of devices. Google Home and Google Home Mini work with Google Assistant.

Apple’s Siri and Homepod, which might offer the most security and privacy to users, operate by scanning codes and might be the easiest in-home apps to use. The tradeoff is that Siri and Homepod work only with other Apple devices, which can be more expensive than other voice assistant products. Also, Siri is not as personal and does not differentiate between voices.

Seniors with arthritis, vision or mobility issues might opt for one type of device, while those interested primarily in entertainment might  choose another. Some elderly users report that their device can be frustrating to set up and assistance is not always readily available. All digital home assistants require a wireless connection.

“Alexa has given my mom a chance to be a little more independent from us,” Johnson said. “And that is comforting.”

Voice technology assistants are being updated constantly, with Google Assistant and Alexa competing fiercely.

Only Amazon sells Alexa and Echo. Apple’s Siri Homepod is available at Apple stores and other Apple retailers. Google Assistant and Google Home can be purchased at Lowe’s and Best Buy, among other retailers.

For a short starter review, check out CNET at cnet.com/news/which-smart-speaker-should-you-buy.