Can Alexa improve the lives of those who are lonely?
Director of adults’ social care at Oxfordshire council Kate Terroni, says the council was especially keen to see how Alexa could support older people and help to connect them with their communities and to see how the technology can reduce loneliness and isolation. So far, Alexa has performed tasks for service users such as setting reminders, providing news updates and playing audiobooks, helping to give service users a greater sense of independence. At the halfway stage of the trial, Terroni says Alexa has had a greater effect than anyone at the council expected.
James Picket, of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Alexa isn’t the same as a chat with a loved one. Human interaction is always the gold standard, but unfortunately there simply aren’t enough professional carers to provide the care that people with dementia need and deserve.”
The imitative taken by Hampshire and Oxford County Councils to trial Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant is to be commended. There appears to be emerging evidence that the voice-controlled technology can engage people and reduce loneliness and isolation.
As with all technology ‘Alexa’ should not be viewed as a panacea that will on its own rid society of its failure to engage with one another. It cannot and should not be a substitute for human contact. Those responsible for social care budgets and care providers must not see it as a replacement for caring staff. That said, and given the aforementioned safeguards, ‘Alexa’ can have the potential to bring some enjoyment and support to people who are isolated and lonely in their lives.
Albert Cook BA, MA & Fellow Charted Quality Institute
Bettal Quality Consultancy