Ageing Well with Gadgets: The Smart Speaker

Smart speakers

In the light of the recent rise in the use of smart phones, speakers are now developing functions that go beyond the broadcast of sound which has been their primary function throughout the 20th century. The ‘smart speaker’ might be described as our next go to device with the capability of doing many different tasks remotely. As these speakers are wireless, they can pick up signals from computers and devices from anywhere within the house. There are many available apps designed to allow these gadgets to do their thing while they can be controlled in different ways. For us, it is convenient they are activated by the voice operated from a sophisticated recognition system which will allow the device to understand what you are saying. The speakers can talk back and respond to the user as required. Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung all produce different versions of the smart speaker so take your time to consider which one would be the best fit for you.

While at first one could be forgiven for thinking that the 65+ age group would not feel the need for such technology, feedback has high-lighted two areas in which they will support a vulnerable adult. Firstly as backup in an emergency and secondly to improve quality of life around the home. As today many more older people than ever are sustaining an independent lifestyle, it means there is less strain upon the UK care sector. If a loved one is having problems with mobility or an elderly person is living alone, smart speakers are considered useful in the following ways:

  • Smart speakers are easily accessible while voice activated from a question or command to elicit some kind of response. Some models can be rigged to take action in an emergency so in the event of a fall, the speaker could alert the relevant emergency services and next of kin which might be a life saver if the phone is out of reach. This creates an area of safety allowing a loved one to live in their own home for much longer than they normally would.
  • Voice activation also means gadgets can recognise individual voices. For someone with visual impairment, this is an ideal way to cope with certain day to day tasks which ordinarily might seem overwhelming. Similarly, Parkinson’s and arthritis are just some of the common conditions older people face which are made easier by making these speakers work from a seated position. Problems with hearing are addressed by using the volume control.
  • Google claims their speakers come with a personality whereas there are many who are sure that the only way to cure loneliness is regular contact with real people. However, a smart speaker should not be dismissed as incapable of interaction and are designed to be friendly. As they do talk back to people, it’s at least an opportunity for someone to express themselves who may be struggling to make friends in the outside world. Smart speakers can play a number of games or even share a joke so there is at least some simulation and connection even if it is not the real thing. Where support for functional skills are required, Smart Speakers are often programmed to help teach the user how to be more organised with greater independence.
  • Small organisational tasks are a speciality of the Smart Speaker. They can arrange to help householders in many ways by automating key household tasks i.e. controlling the heating systems via the thermostat. The device will be prepared to answer questions about bus and train times from the local timetable or about weather conditions during the week. Shopping lists can be completed and sent to other devices without recourse to pen and paper. If the speaker can be accessed as a sophisticated remote control, then maybe some of the strain can be lifted from doing too many small tasks, necessary but difficult for someone who is unsteady on their feet i.e. turning lights on and off without having to get up to do so. The user now has the freedom to do other things with their day gaining time to pursue the good things in life and for longer.

Here is a list of the current speakers available which are current on the market.

  1. Sonos One – Voice Controlled Smart Speaker
  1. Apple HomePod
  1. Amazon Echo, Echo Plus, Spot (smaller version) and Show (this has a screen)
  1. Google Home and Home Hub

If you are interested you can go on this web site for more details about each device and what they can do: