Alexa / Google Home customized for dementia - suggestions

Discussion in 'Researchers, students and professionals' started by MarkFlint, Mar 29, 2019.

  1. MarkFlint

    MarkFlint New member

    Mar 29, 2019
    Hi All!

    My grandmother was recently diagnosed and I am working on a tailored application/skill for people with early stage Alzheimer's. This would work through voice on existing Alexa or Google Home devices. The goal is to improve quality of life for carer and sufferer! I have a number of features in mind that are listed below, but would love to hear from the community on what you would like to see. I would be equally interested in knowing any concerns or even just if this is something that would be helpful.

    • Activation through a bright button, rather than "Alexa" invocation
    • Reminders about family - names, ages, occupations, where they live
    • Family updates - upload photos and other media to Google Photos and this is directly synced with a smart screen
    • Day/night update and calendar
    • Medicine reminders
    • Voice routine guidance - getting dressed
    Many thanks!!
  2. karaokePete

    karaokePete Volunteer Host

    Jul 23, 2017
    N Ireland
    Hello @MarkFlint, welcome to the forum.

    I know that this type of thing has been discussed before and recall that there was concern about the effect that a disembodied voice may have on a person with dementia. I know it would cause great issues with my wife. Another issue is the fact that many people with dementia ignore such things because they just can't think of them - again, an issue with my wife.

    Having said that, I think some people did advocate such ideas so you may get some replies that are useful to you.

    I hope you have time to take a good look around the site as it is a goldmine for information. When I first joined I read old threads for information but then found the AS Publications list and the page where a post code search can be done to check for support services in ones own area. If you are interested in these, clicking the following links will take you there

    You will see that there are Factsheets that will help with things like getting care needs assessments, deciding the level of care required and sorting out useful things like Wills, Power of Attorney etc., if any of that hasn't already been done.

    Now that you have found us I hope you will keep posting as the membership has vast collective knowledge and experience.

    Best of luck to you and your Grandmother.
  3. Sirena

    Sirena Registered User

    Feb 27, 2018
    I think it would only be of help to someone in the early stages. By the mid stage my mother couldn't even reliably remember how to press the button on her entryphone to let people in, something she'd been doing for decades. She found new things confusing and tended to ignore or discard them. And any automated information given wouldn't have been retained, she would have forgotten 20 seconds later.
  4. canary

    canary Registered User

    Feb 25, 2014
    South coast
    When mum got to the stage of finding the sequence of eg dressing she could not follow verbal commands - she needed someone to actually show (and help) her.
    She also hated things like smart photoframes and would unplug them and hide them away. The way that the photo changed unnerved her. And this was from someone who had always loved her gadgets!

    The problem is that once people progress beyond the early stages they find technology extremely confusing. There really is little substitute for an actual person responding to them. Technology is of most help in assisting the carer.
  5. Mumof3kids

    Mumof3kids Registered User

    Aug 12, 2018
    Yes I agree this would probably only help someone in the early stages. I bought my parents a Google Home as a Christmas present a couple of years ago. It's my dad with Vascular Dementia, I thought it would help and actually entertain him and pass some time. I linked it to my Spotify account and they did initially listen to some 'old tunes' which jolted nice memories. But this was only because my mum initiated using it. My dad had no interest. I bought them a 'dementia' clock, showing the time, the day, the date etc, it's a large display sited so my dad can see it clearly from his chair in the living room. But still he will ask my mum what the time is, what day is it? He doesn't seem to have the capacity to remember the clock gives him all this information. The default is to ask.

    Good luck
  6. LadyA

    LadyA Registered User

    Oct 19, 2009
    I agree. I have vivid memories of a horrendous journey with my late husband where I needed to use the satnav. Every time the thing gave a direction, my husband just about had hysterics! "Who said that?! What are they saying?" He became convinced it was somebody hiding, who was going to lie in wait somewhere along our route, leap out from behind a bridge (don't know where he got the bridge from!), and shoot us. I had to turn off the satnav and depend on signposts in the end.
  7. Lynmax

    Lynmax Registered User

    Nov 1, 2016
    Anything that needs to be plugged in would have to be very robust to survive in my mums house! She switched off every socket she can see when she goes to bed but then sometimes forgets to switch them back on! So when the TV doesn't work or the freezer defrosts, she blames the naughty school boys who break into the house to cut the wires! So, much as we would love to be able to use some modern technology, ie a camera door bell so we can remotely see who is calling, we cannot find anywhere to hide the necessary broadband connection! Many of her sockets are now covered with locked boxes so she cannot touch them - she soon forgets what they are hiding! But the modem thingy needs to be open to connect to devices and we are thwarted! Many people with dementia struggle with technology and Alexa might be a challenge for them.
  8. Elle3

    Elle3 Registered User

    Jun 30, 2016
    I agree with all the other posts, this could be useful for those in the early stages of Dementia, however as the disease progresses the ability to remember to do just simple tasks can be challenging.

    Some of the comments brought back memories of what my dad used to do. He was one for unplugging everything at night, but then forgetting to plug them back in and blaming 'visitors' in the night for breaking things.

    We also bought him a Dementia clock. In the early stages of Dementia, he thought it was wonderful, however he still insisted on unplugging it every night and then not plugging it back in. It took about 5 months, lots of stickers, tape etc to get him to leave it plugged in, but I think then it was more that he had forgotten about it and over a few more months he stopped taking notice or believing it.

    Dad got a bad cold and rather than drive 20 minutes back to his house just to give him some tablets before he went to bed. I tried calling him on the telephone to tell him to take them (My simple version of a medicine reminder). I had left them on a side table next to the phone, with water. Could I get him to understand, nope! I had to drive there and discovered the tablets and water had been cleared away (probably as soon as I'd left that afternoon) and they were found hidden under the sink in the kitchen.

    We also had a care call system installed with door sensors to try to stop him from going out at night. This just became an annoyance for him and a disembodied voice talking to him when he opened the doors started to really upset him and stress him out. It lasted 3 weeks before he ripped it out. He thought strangers were constantly in his house.

    As someone else mentioned most gadgets these days require a broadband connection, this was also something dad wouldn't accept in his house, something else plugged in! We tried hiding it upstairs under a small chest of drawers, but he discovered it and unplugged it and hid it somewhere else, we didn't find it for months. So we had to give up with that.

    Our reliance on technology really worries me, more and more things require it. We have to remember pin codes, passwords etc and are told to change them often and not write them down. But what happens when we do get older and our memories worsen with age or we start with Dementia? I think I am of an age where I am very comfortable with technology, I spend most of the day on a computer, a tablet or a phone. I use a smart TV, have an Alexa, satnav in car etc and I do most things on-line. But things change so quickly these days and it's so easy to get left behind and even though I know what I am doing now, the question is will I still be able to cope with it as I get older? Will I still be able to adapt and understand it? Also, will this younger generation who are growing up surrounded by technology and everyday simplified tasks, be able to cope when they age and their memory declines and they can't deal with change anymore? No matter how many technological devices are introduced into our daily living, will we still remember as we age, to press that button to access something, talk to the room to turn on the lights, the tv etc, or fill the kettle with water before we tell it to switch itself on?

    My dad was about 76/77 when we started noticing signs of Dementia. However he managed well still living at home for another 5 years, doing the mundane, routine tasks, washing, shaving, brushing his teeth, housework etc, food shopping, heating things in a microwave or on a hob, driving, going the bank and signing his name for money. However, I have to admit he was a technophobe and hadn't really embraced any technology so it was almost guaranteed we would have had a problem with trying to introduce anything new.

    What I'm trying to say is that being able to do simple everyday routines manually are the things that enabled my dad to survive as long as he did with still living at home, his deep set memories of routine still worked. However, my question is what happens as technological advancements start to replace many simple tasks and we adapt our routines to this technology, are we taking the simplicity out of them and no longer establishing those deep routed routines because things are constantly changing and upgrading? Yes we think saying out loud 'Alexa, turn the light on' is simple but we have to rely on our memory to ask that question, rather than see a lamp, go to it and switch it on. What do we do if there is no switch anymore, do we sit in the dark?

    I'm sorry I know your trying to help but sometimes turning to technology to solve a problem or help, is not always the answer. Having visits or calls from an actual person, being able to hold onto something physical like a photo and being told or helped to do something can never be replaced in my opinion.
  9. Canadian Joanne

    Canadian Joanne Volunteer Moderator

    Apr 8, 2005
    Toronto, Canada
    I have to agree with the above posts that technological approaches, although well-intentioned, will only work for a short period of time with a limited number of people. A person with dementia has great difficulties learning something new, even in the beginning stages. So tech has very limited usefulness.
  10. TheBearsMummy

    TheBearsMummy Registered User

    Sep 29, 2017
    East Midlands
    Oh the unplugging fairy! She visits regularly. First phone call will be from lifeline saying it has been turned off, we will look at cameras and see they are down too then the neighbour will ring to say she has been for help as her tv is not working and that the flat is freezing or like an oven depending on the weather as the heating/aircon is switched off.
    Whoever decided it was a good idea to take out the storage heating and replace it with a complicated and noisy hot/cold air unit operated via a remote control really should be locked in a small flat with a PWD for a few days, they wouldn't keep saying it's so simple to use after that. Simple doesn't work if it has no batteries in it for a start and if her care workers, cleaner and neighbour can't figure it out then what chance has a person with dementia
  11. MarkFlint

    MarkFlint New member

    Mar 29, 2019
    Thank you all for the insightful contributions, a lot of valuable input! This is very helpful indeed. You correctly mention that technology can sometimes become so engineered that it creates barriers around us rather than eliminating them.

    Perhaps the answer lies not in trying to help the PWD with poor results, but rather assisting caretakers to achieve more with less.
  12. canary

    canary Registered User

    Feb 25, 2014
    South coast
    Yes, I think this is the way to go.
  13. Wifenotcarer

    Wifenotcarer Registered User

    Mar 11, 2018
    Many of us spouse/caregivers are also elderly and whether through the forgetfulness of old age or the constant stress we are under struggle with remembering to give medication at the right time, book and attend medical appointments, order repeat prescriptions and hearing aid batteries, arrange MOT (I totally forgot last year) pay bills, use on-line banking, etc. Perhaps the PWD has been the one who dealt with some or all of these things, was the tech savvy one, but the carer now has to cope with them all. You know the saying that 'you can't teach an old dog new tricks' - well there is truth in that saying but to put it bluntly, there isn't a snowba's chance in Hell of teaching new tricks to a PWD but as long as it is fairly simple, straightforward and either necessary or useful, the carers do learn. Being tied to the house we are not able to attend classes to learn or update computer skills, but increasingly need them to survive in this modern world.

    Personally I would like a sort of diary which was straightforward to set up and update and would under 'tasks for today' alert me to time to book or attend appointments, Tax, Insure, service the car. A tick box to record medication administered or needing re-ordered - that kind of thing. I have looked at various versions of this which are available but they have too many options and are too complicated. This would be much simpler and specifically aimed at carers needs.

    Another thought though, if living with someone who switches things off (e.g the computer in the middle of a huge update because it was flashing) and hides things constantly, perhaps it would be safer to stick to the large calendar on the wall!
  14. Mumof3kids

    Mumof3kids Registered User

    Aug 12, 2018
    This is all so very true. My dad constantly switches plugs off at the wall - dementia clock included.
  15. Jaded'n'faded

    Jaded'n'faded Registered User

    Jan 23, 2019
    High Peak
    I think maybe we need to look at less tech for PWDs, not more. If you think about the way they often regress to 'old' ways of doing things, it makes sense. How many of us have had to buy new kettles when our PWD tries to heat an electric one on the stove?

    Many people have had some success with an old-style blackboard or whiteboard, but even simple props like this cease to work after a while.

    I think a disembodied voice saying 'Take your blue pill now!' or 'Do not touch the plug!' would be unnerving for most people, dementia or not. And I honestly can't see the day where Alexa could do the carer job as it really is:

    'Hey! Where are you going? Have you taken your pill? No, you haven't already had it - the blue one that you have every morning. No, you really haven't had it. Hang on, watch that tea, let me help you up. No, left leg to the side a bit then pushhhhhh up. What? The loo? Again? Oh dear too late... Let's get you changed then I'll make you more tea and you can take your pill. No, you haven't had it already....'
  16. Helly68

    Helly68 Registered User

    Mar 12, 2018
    I know my Mum's care home wanted an Alexa (cost is an issue) so that the carers could ask "Play 1950s music" rather than trying to find CDs that have probably been damaged. Also, WIFI or broadband signal varies in cares homes too. This was very much for carers and not residents to use.
  17. Richard and Fin

    Richard and Fin Registered User

    Jun 10, 2017
    Good Morning!
    I'm 65, so the technology age has been a big part of my life and seen the amazing advances in the last 40, or so years, especially during my Primary Teaching madness! Not all of these so called advances have been to the benefit of man, or woman... or child.. or creature.... blah, blah, blah... you know what I mean :rolleyes:

    However, using any technology depends on your personal happiness with using it. If someone gave a Google Home thingy... to someone that had no understanding about it... then the idea of talking to it, listing to this strange voice telling you things...:eek: for someone that may already be having problems with reality... like me sometimes...

    Dementia is so different from one to another.... and the depth of the individuals dementia must play a major consideration.

    I think there is a lot of benefit to gained from the many aspects of technology... music, games, learning, research, organising, or just find some new interests, the list goes on and on, but as a bolt on for someone that may be having a few problems, I don't think so.

    I have a new, One Cup... I press a button and it pours hot water into a cup... Great! You may think that, but I keep forget the cup underneath... sounds simple doesn't it... just put the cup under the spout!!! Now they have given me a nice new, big label with a few instruction... Coffee in cup... Cup under spout.... Press the button... Guess what still happens... :( I wish I had my kettle!

    Do you know what I mean!?

    Have a good day!

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