How Virtual Assistants and Voice Technology Are Revolutionizing Aging

Seniors around a phone

Remember when Siri couldn’t understand anything you said? She called the wrong people, gave you bad directions and seemed confused when you asked her to play your favorite Sinatra song

But over the years, our smartphone best friend has improved with each mistake. Using machine learning to improve her answers and hone her predictions, these days Siri is rather good at playing the song you want to hear or knowing which Marie from your contacts list you want to call.

And Siri isn’t alone. With recent advancements in speech recognition and big-data storage, the world is moving beyond smartphones. Virtual assistants are animating homes and cars, the workplace and even senior living.

Brands Bring About a Screenless Future
Apple’s Siri, Google’s Assistant, Amazon’s Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana are creating society’s screenless future. These brands are joining the revolution by designing virtual assistants who schedule meetings, book vacations and make dinner reservations for their human counterparts. In the very near future, people will be able to find answers and get things done without typing on a smartphone.

The emerging world of voice-activated search is even changing the way people interact online. Search engine queries are becoming more unique and complex, reflecting longer, more human phrasing.

A Helping Hand for Seniors
Voice-enabled digital assistants are poised to make a big difference for seniors. Screenless technology would benefit seniors who face mobility issues or have conditions like arthritis and macular degeneration, which make viewing or typing on screens difficult.

Chatbots could answer questions and give advice 24 hours a day, while voice-controlled devices like Amazon Echo could be employed throughout senior living communities, guiding and directing residents and answering their questions.

By featuring personal assistants in every room, senior living residents would be able to use AI to control the lights, open drapes, adjust the temperature, turn on the TV and call for help when needed.

Introducing ElliQ, the First of It’s Kind
Part robot, part friend, ElliQ is an inviting digital companion designed to keep seniors active and connected through online games, video chats and social media that engages with family and friends.

Unlike passive TV entertainment, ElliQ takes a proactive approach by recommending that seniors take a walk after they’ve been sitting for a long time. ElliQ connects seniors to engaging media like TED talks, music and audiobooks, and she can also make appointments and connect seniors with family through chatbots like Facebook Messenger.

Using speech, sound, lights and even body language that mimics human emotion, ElliQ is an emotive technology that learns the behavior, preferences and personality of her owner. She can also keep family members up to date on their mom or dad’s daily life via stats and updates.

Welcoming Robots with Open Arms
Robots may not seem like a very human approach to senior living, but recent studies show that older adults are receptive to accepting help from robots. And while more research and development is needed to ensure that robots are safe and reliable, robots supporting seniors will soon become a reality.

We’re still a long way from robots that could compete with Rosie from “The Jetsons,” but adorable bots like ElliQ, Jib, Pepper and Kuri are now assisting seniors with staying engaged with the world and the ones they love.

Before cleaning and cooking robots can thrive, vast advancements in battery technology and artificial intelligence would have to occur. In the meantime, assistive technologies built into smartphones, tablets and virtual reality headsets are already taking off in many senior living communities.

Companionship in the Age of Tech
In an effort to promote technologies that can help seniors stay independent longer, Brookdale is exploring ways to connect seniors to technology in their everyday lives.

One Brookdale community in Texas recently hosted researchers from the University of Texas at Arlington and the Texas-Arlington Research Institute to determine whether reciting Shakespeare with a robot could increase engagement and lessen symptoms of depression.

For one hour a week, eight Brookdale residents corresponded with Nao, a two-foot-tall robot from SoftBank Robotics, who can walk with people, shake hands, do tai chi and tell stories.

Nao recited the first 12 lines of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” and then prompted seniors to recite the last two lines. Seniors who interacted with Nao experienced “significant decreases in depression and significant increases in engagement.” Soon, robots like Nao could roam the halls of many senior living communities — offering service and companionship, anywhere and anytime.

With AI, the Possibilities are Endless
In the near future, virtual assistants may also help senior living residents with taking pills, briefing them on the day’s dinner menu and answering routine questions. Virtual assistants may even be able to help residents suffering from memory loss — reminding them of a favorite story or an important appointment.

Robotic assistants that serve as full-time wellness coaches could urge seniors to drink more water or tackle a challenging crossword puzzle. Providing quick, reliable and personal interactions, these virtual companions may keep patients healthier, more independent and more connected than ever. With these benefits in mind, the brave new world of robotic technology becomes personal and promising rather than cold and clinical.

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