HOW ALEXA OPENED UP MY PARENTS’ WORLD

To set the scene, my parents are both 92 (their birthdays are less than a month apart) and they live independently in an immaculately tidy bungalow in mid-Sussex. They have been married for 53 years. Both were married before they met, my stepfather twice. They are still very much in love and devoted to each other. 

However, their health isn’t brilliant. My mother has a very painful back and her memory is not what it once was. My stepfather has macular degenerationand so is partially sighted and also rather frail on his feet. 

They rarely go out these days except for medical appointments and, when they do, it is somewhat of a performance what with walkers, wheelchairs and wobbly legs! Their world has become so small that any issues, however trivial, are discussed between them at length. Great length! That’s when they are not sleeping, something they do rather a lot of. So I was wondering how I could help widen their world. 

My sister and I bought them a Koto Simple Music Player from the Alzheimer’s Society website. It couldn’t be simpler to operate – they simply have to lift and close a lid – but wonderful as it is, it has limitations as they cannot easily select a specific song or artist to listen to.  

Their mobile phone is at the back of a drawer somewhere and their computer would be gathering dust if it wasn’t for Carol, their weekly cleaner. We all take it for granted that we can Google anything we can’t remember – who starred in Singing In The Rain for example. But my technophobe parents don’t have that facility and with their memories dimming…

I don’t have a voice-controlled virtual assistant and so I knew really very little about the Alexa’s,  Siri’s and Echo’s of this ever increasingly digital world we live in.  However it occurred to me that I should look into exactly what they can and can’t do.

So it turns out that a virtual assistant that only requires voice commands, could be perfect for them. I was delighted to discover that an Alexa costs around £35 on Amazon (ie not a fortune) and couldn’t be simpler to install – just plug ‘her’ into a socket and connect to the internet. 

Soon an Alexa was sitting on their kitchen table. A small innocuous dome. But ‘she’ has given my parents a view onto the outside world.  She will, on command, tell them what the weather is like in Brighton or Barbados. If requested she can tell them a joke (pretty weedy ones, but hey). She makes a shopping list which I then use to do their weekly online supermarket order on my computer.

They suddenly have 90 million songs (via Amazon Music Unlimited) to choose from simply by calling out the exact artist or song they would like to listen to. That’s a lot of music. Alexa sets the alarms when my stepfather is cooking – saving him having to peer at the oven clock with his magnifying glass and potentially burning himself. Keeping abreast of the latest news is now a doddle for both of them. To say nothing of the endless choice of podcasts and audiobooks that keep him entertained and amused…

Alexa could dim the lights, switch off the heating and lock the doors – but we haven’t gone that far. When I asked my mother if they were enjoying having Alexa in the house, she told me that she found my stepfather in the kitchen the other day listening to Louis Armstrong with tears of happiness running down his cheeks. He can’t see well enough to put on one of his beloved jazz CDs any more, but thanks to Alexa he now can choose his own favourite songs to listen to… purely by asking. 

This article was first published on the (extremely informative) Age Space website which gives us all invaluable tips and advice on elderly care.

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