Echo And Dot Can Improve Dementia Patients’ Lives

The news about former Monty Python troupe member, writer and director Terry Jones’ dementia diagnosis is a reminder to us all of the many people who are diagnosed each year with this common and challenging illness. It’s also a good time to point out how Echo and Dot can improve dementia patients’ lives in some surprising and dramatic ways.

 

Terry Jones

 

When memory begins to slip away, it’s a frustrating and sometimes humiliating thing for dementia sufferers. Alexa can step in to serve dementia patients’ needs while letting them keep their dignity.

 

Alexa will always answer basic questions cheerfully, and will never make anyone feel embarrassed about asking.
Dementia sufferers may forget simple things like what day or month it is, and need to ask caretakers those same questions over and over again. Often, sufferers won’t get the answers they need because they feel embarrassed, or get a sense that their caretaker is losing patience with them.

Alexa is always ready to answer those questions and will never tire of hearing them. Also, since Alexa isn’t a human caregiver, no one needs to feel self-conscious about asking her a question she may have answered just seconds ago.

 

Alexa can remember events, important facts and dates FOR them.
One of the most heartbreaking things for dementia patients is losing track of their grandchildren’s birthdays, ages and progress in school, especially if the patient particularly cherishes marking those special milestones. Here again, Alexa can step in to offer some support.

A family member can set up a Google Calendar account for the patient and link it to the Echo or Dot in the Alexa app. Google Calendar is free, and anyone who has a free Gmail account also gets a Google Calendar bundled with it. Click here for Amazon’s help topic about using Google Calendar with Alexa (UK visitors click here).

Once it’s all set up, the family member can add birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and other important occasions to the calendar. The dementia patient only has to ask Alexa, “What’s on my calendar today?” or “What’s on my calendar this week?” to stay up to date.

 

Caregivers can keep a watchful eye from a distance via the Alexa app.
Dementia patients are sometimes too proud to let loved ones or caregivers know when they need help, or may worry about being a burden. With Alexa and the Alexa app acting as the go-between, it’s possible for loved ones and caregivers to keep tabs on the patient without relying on the patient him- or herself to provide updates: it’s as easy as monitoring the History shown in the Alexa app.

If History shows substantial activity in the wee hours, caregivers know the patient is struggling with insomnia. A dementia sufferer who’s always loved listening to audiobooks in the afternoon and suddenly stops may be feeling depressed, or experiencing some other kind of change caregivers will need to investigate.

 

Alexa can provide assistance, entertainment and even a kind of companionship.
I just mentioned audiobooks, but did you know Audible has many full-cast recordings (UK visitors click here) and radio dramas (UK visitors click here) available too? Alexa can also play music of course, and tune in to favorite radio stations from around the world.

The Flash Briefing has many sources of information, and can become a daily ritual that helps patients who might otherwise feel isolated keep up to date with what’s going on in the world.

Alexa can handle timers and alarms—and these can be set remotely by caregivers via the Alexa app too, so the patient doesn’t have to worry about forgetting to set them.

**7/30/17 UPDATE**

Now it seems you have to use voice commands on the target device to create an alarm. However, all pre-existing / past alarms you’ve set for the device do show up in the Alexa app and you can toggle them off and on there. Problem solved! Use voice commands to pre-program a few alarms at the most likely times you would need them, and after setting each one tell Alexa to “Cancel alarm”. The alarm will be turned off, but it will show up in the list of available alarms in the Alexa app.

The dementia patient can add needed items to the grocery list so designated caregivers will know what to pick up for them by checking the Alexa mobile app. The shopping list provides another monitoring opportunity as well, since it will be apparent if the patient is forgetting to ask for needed items that could be past their expiration dates for safe consumption, or if the patient is adding the same items to the list repeatedly in a single day.

Then there are skills. So many skills! From baseball trivia to geography quizzes, there’s something to keep every mind active. Caregivers will want to enable a limited number of skills at a time, leave a written reminder of the invocation phrases for each near the Echo or Dot, and regularly rotate the skills by disabling those previously used and enabling new ones.

 

Finally, however limited her interactions may be, Alexa is a friendly voice that’s always there, never loses her patience, and is always ready to help. Sometimes just that is enough to help a dementia patient feel a little less lonely and a little more secure.

 

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