How Alexa – and AbilityNet – are helping older users feel more connected

Loneliness and isolation among older adults are pressing issues.

Alexa device - round black plastic electronic deviceAccording to the Campaign to End Loneliness, half a million older people in the UK go at least five or six days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone. For those aged 85 and over (and 38% of those aged 75 to 84) living alone is a stark reality. In England alone, an estimated 1.4 million chronically lonely older people seek connection and companionship.

Technology can be a lifeline, bridging the gap and connecting seniors to essential services. During the pandemic, organisations distributed tablets and devices to older populations, helping them stay in touch with loved ones. But what about voice assistants? How can they play a role in combating loneliness?

Alexa is a 'friend' to many

In a study carried out by Thinks Insights & Strategy highlighted in an Amazon article recently, participants found that using the core functions of Amazon’s ever-attentive voice assistant, Alexa, significantly helped to alleviate boredom, a feeling strongly linked to loneliness. 81% of the participants reported that Alexa ‘made them feel less lonely’, and less isolated. 

“We’re heartened to see that Alexa can be truly helpful for the older population, reducing their sense of loneliness, increasing human interactions and making aspects of daily life easier," says Eric King Director of Alexa Europe in the Amazon article.

Angela Rippon lends her voice

Well known (and well loved) public figure, Angela Rippon, has joined with Amazon to help raise awareness of the power of voice assistants to help reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation.

“People often talk about how technology can confuse and cut off older people, but it can also offer solutions,” says Angela Rippon.

“AI voice services like Alexa can bring family and friends into your home and because it’s voice activated, there is no complicated technology involved. I often use Alexa for relatively simple tasks like making my shopping list, but it’s amazing how much it helps,” Rippon continues.

She also echoes a key aspect of AbilityNet’s mission; “We need to continue to make technology more accessible for elderly people and to encourage friends, families, charities and volunteers to help us along the way."

AbilityNet’s Role in the Alexa Study

Amazon approached AbilityNet to help undertake the study. We recruited a wide range of participants, ensuring representation across various age groups and disabilities. Our mission: to explore how Alexa could enhance the lives of older adults. 

Our approach:

  1. Tailoring Solutions: We understand that one size doesn’t fit all. We worked closely with older participants to understand their unique needs. The result? A customised approach that maximised the potential benefits of Alexa.
  2. Empowering Seniors: We provided support to set up and use Alexa devices. Our volunteers guided them through the process, making sure they felt comfortable and as confident as possible when interacting with the technology.
  3. Interviews and Insights: Participants were interviewed three times during the study: before starting, after two weeks, and after four weeks. We gathered valuable insights into how Alexa impacted their daily lives, combatting loneliness, and fostering connections.

Alexa: A Companion for Seniors

Volunteer Joanne Garner listening on digital device sitting on armchairAlexa isn’t just a voice in the room; it’s a companion. You can ask Alexa to play music, read audiobooks, provide news updates, and even make video calls. The simplicity of voice commands makes it accessible to all, regardless of tech expertise.

With the help of AbilityNet's 450+ network of volunteers, we are able to take it a step further. AbilityNet’s Tech Volunteers offer free support to seniors, helping them set up not only Alexa but also other smart devices from tablets to Smart TVs, from laptops to laser printers. 

You might also be interested in learning about how technology can help older and elderly people, via our online factsheets, including:

Alexa Accessibility Hub
The Alexa Accessibility Hub is the main place to find out about Alexa and its many features, including a useful blog about How people with disabilities can use Alexa to help them lead more independent lives.
AbilityNet website: search results page for the term ‘Alexa’ highlights many valuable tips.
Podcasts: Also check out the Dot to Dot podcast for brief daily tips about how to use Alexa well, or The Echo Show, a weekly look at all things Alexa with myself and co-host Shaun Preece.

More resources from AbilityNet