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Alexa Transforms This Senior Living Community

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By Jack Cumming

Alexa Takes Off

In a webinar on June 18th, Touchtown partnered with Davis Park of Front Porch to discuss how Amazon’s Echo devices and the Alexa applications are improving the lives of residents. For those who don’t know Davis Park, he is the Executive Director of the Front Porch Center for Innovation and Well-Being (FPCIW). He works closely with entrepreneurs like those on display at Aging 2.0 to allow them to test their products with Front Porch’s population of aging residents.

Front Porch is a California nonprofit corporation, which owns and operates continuing care retirement communities (CCRC), other multilevel retirement communities and other operations providing services that enhance the quality of life for those served through independent retirement living, assisted living, memory care, skilled nursing, social services, affordable housing, and contract management of subsidized housing.

Listening

Throughout the webinar, Mr. Park emphasized the importance of the fundamental Front Porch principle of listening to residents. That adherence to principle paid off with the advances made with the Alexa project. One of the initiatives proposed by the residents was one Mr. Park likened to the “pay it forward” altruism from the eponymous movie. Residents at Carlsbad by the Sea Retirement Community (CBTS), a beachside CCRC north of San Diego, bought a number of Amazon Echo devices to bring the Alexa benefits to other residents. The arrangement was that residents could try the device for a period, and if they decided to keep it, they would make a compensating donation to fund the purchase of more devices for still other residents. The result is widespread availability of Alexa devices throughout the community. The happy result has been that the enthusiasm of residents has made the deployment self-propagating.

Staff Support

The initiative at CBTS was greatly advanced when Joan Johnson, the Executive Director, bought a number of Amazon Dots for her senior staff. They were quickly won over to the value of Alexa, and their support helped to overcome any reluctance that might otherwise have arisen. Staff helped to promote Alexa to those residents who could benefit, and they were ready to embrace Alexa for the local community when Touchtown introduced modules to allow connectivity. Supporting local management is a key component of the FPCIW approach. Click on this sentence to hear Mr. Park's full discussion of Front Porch's approach. The substance begins about ten minutes in if you want to cursor past the introductory materials about the participants and their employers.

What It Does

The many general attributes of Alexa are well-known – reading books out loud, playing music, delivering the news, and a myriad of useful features. What is new for Carlsbad by the Sea is the vocal delivery of local information including menu choices, activities, and much more. This local personification is made possible by the Touchtown My Community skillset. With Touchtown's My Community skill, you can ask Alexa to tell you about dining options for today, tomorrow, or this Saturday, or ask for a list of interesting activities for a particular day. Once the local community is encoded into the Alexa device,  a resident can simply ask, “Alexa, ask My Community what's for breakfast tomorrow,” or “Alexa, ask My Community what's happening on Friday.”

Restoring Independence

What’s been surprising about the Alexa family is how readily older people – even very advanced elderly – take to the rudiments and get started making daily use of it. The result is not only empowering for the very old but it's also a welcome enhancement for the most independent of independent living residents.  It’s also a clear plus for marketing with incoming residents, and their families, who are looking for evidence that a community is technologically up-to-date.

Where Alexa really shows her greatest value, though, is with those who are challenged with vision, mobility, or other attributes of advanced age. For them, it can restore a degree of independence that they thought was lost forever. “What’s for lunch?” Alexa can let those with diminished eyesight know the menu. “Raise the temperature.” Alexa can handle that too.

Moreover, those who are frail and fearful of falls can use Alexa to call for help. If an emergency contact is programmed in, an elderly person, unable to get off the floor and out of reach of a pendant, can simply call out “Alexa, call the front desk” and help can soon be on the way. That's very reassuring for many residents who fear that a fall may leave them unable to call for help or that they may collapse in the shower with the pendant across the room on the sink shelf. The potential of voice recognition, now best epitomized in Amazon's Alexa devices, is vast in the support that it can bring to those who are aging.

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