Hampshire County Council is the first local authority to use voice recognition technology to support elderly and disabled residents receiving care at home. Working with Amazon, the council is trialling a customised version of its Alexa software that has been specially adapted to help users live independently and also reduce social isolation.
Currently in pilot, the idea is being tested in 50 Hampshire homes throughout 2018. The pilot is being funded by the Department of Health who are keen to see the scheme rolled out across the UK providing it is a success.
Amazon's Alexa software is in-built into the company's Echo device, a voice-activated home speaker with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. There are a number of ways this voice recognition technology can help its users. Here are some examples:
Medication and care plan reminder
Echo users can add new ‘skills’ to the device and then simply “ask Alexa” to remind them to take medication or check when their carer is due to arrive.
Replaces the need for physical input
The software significantly improves quality of life for people with little or no mobility as a result of medical conditions such as multiple sclerosis or motor neurone disease. Alexa voice-controlled devices can be linked to other gadgets in the home so that voice commands replace physical actions. For example, linking Alexa to Amazon’s Fire TV Stick allows users to operate the television without having to adjust a physical device.
Health and movement monitoring
Alexa can be used to encourage exercise and a healthy lifestyle. The software can suggest wellbeing tips when asked by the user and can also access online audiobooks of exercise routines. By linking Alexa to movement sensors around the home, hydration and proper diet can be encouraged so that when a person enters their kitchen they can be prompted to take a drink or to eat.
Councillor Liz Fairhurst, Hampshire County Council’s Executive Member for Adult Social Care and Health.
"This is a world first for Hampshire County Council and our care technology partners. Working directly with Amazon will ensure our trial is backed by the experience of one of the biggest internet-based retailers in the world. We are very excited about the possibilities this project could open up in the future, and its potential to benefit the future of social care.”
Reduces social isolation
Alexa is of particular benefit to partially sighted or socially-isolated users as it can give them information via the Amazon Echo system that they would previously have struggled to access. For example users can listen to the weather forecast, latest news or play an audiobook. This encourages interaction and keeps users well connected with the outside world.
The pilot project is running until the end of this year (2018) and is expected to be a great success following positive feedback thus far. So look out for other UK local authorities rolling out this cost-efficeint way of helping our elderly and disabled to live indpenently at home. Let me now what you think of using Alexa to improve social care in the comments section below. Thanks for reading.