The global COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the daily challenges older adults experience by reducing social contact, leading to increased loneliness and depression. By 2050, more than 2.1 billion people will be aged 60 or over. Aging brings its share of changes and health conditions that can lead to physical and cognitive decline. Nearly 30% of people aged over 65 who live at home fall at least once a year!
The digital age has brought a multitude of technologies that can overcome certain physical, visual or cognitive limitations. For example, voice assistants like Apple's Siri, Amazon's Alexa or Google's Assistant may enhance the functional capabilities of people who choose to age in place. These technologies are very easy to use: you can control these devices by voice by simply saying “Hey Siri”, “OK Google” or “Alexa”! Whether it is to obtain information online, make a call, put on music, adjust the heating, turn the lights on or off in the room or manage appointment or medication alerts, voice assistants are there to help you. increasingly used in daily life.
What is known about the use of personal voice assistants by older adults and their caregivers?
What research tells us
An evidence synthesis looked at 22 studies of personal voice assistants used by community-dwelling older adults (meaning those who do not live in nursing homes or healthcare settings). In total, 284 people aged 50 or over, for an average age of 71 years, participated in the studies.
The main results are as follows:
- Most older adults are willing to use personal voice assistants to accomplish tasks. However, depending on individual interests and abilities, availability of support for setting up and learning to use these devices, and tolerance for technology-induced frustration, some people may be reluctant to use them.
- The most popular personal voice assistant among North American consumers is Alexa from the giant Amazon. Google Assistant comes in second, which is not surprising since Amazon and Google are dominant in the consumer technology market. Mobile voice assistants, which require the use of smartphones, such as Apple's Siri, seem to be used less frequently, possibly because of their more complex interfaces.
- Older adults use personal voice assistants mainly to set reminders and alarms, search for information and check the weather.
- None of the studies included in the review evaluated the effectiveness of personal voice assistants in improving the functional capacity, quality of life or well-being of older people. This technology is still new and the body of evidence about their use by older adults is too limited to draw firm conclusions.
It is estimated that more than 8 billion units of voice assistants will be in use worldwide in 2024. As with any technology, data privacy is a major concern: older adults and their families need to properly configure privacy settings to protect their personal information.
In a context of aging in place, however, personal voice assistants seem promising. Coupled with other technologies such as motion detectors to detect falls and devices that measure vital signs continuously, they could become an undeniable asset for preserving the autonomy and safety of older adults who wish to age at home in the years to come.